DC mayor: Chinese investors welcomed

Updated: 2012-07-21 02:24

By Tan Yingzi in Washington (China Daily)

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City ready to serve companies that seek foothold in the United States

The mayor of Washington DC, Vincent Gray, has described China as the best place in the world for international investors to go to find opportunities, and has firmly opened the doors of his city to Chinese companies looking to launch or expand their presence in the United States.

Just back in the US capital city after a trade trip to China — his first visit to the country — the mayor said one of his key economic objectives is to attract investment by international companies.

He used the example of Dalian Wanda Group — the Chinese company based in the city of Dalian in Liaoning province, which operates in real estate, tourism, hotels and entertainment — as just the kind of outward-looking company he and city officials in Washington are keen to do business with.

DC mayor: Chinese investors welcomed

Vincent Gray, the mayor of Washington DC 

Dalian Wanda announced in May it had bid for US-based AMC Entertainment Holdings for $2.6 billion. The deal, which awaits regulatory approval in the US, creates the world's biggest chain of movie theaters and is being seen as one of the boldest direct investments ever made in the US entertainment industry.

Dalian Wanda, with $16.7 billion in revenues last year, has a sound investment track record and deep pockets, and like other major Chinese companies, is seeking opportunities abroad.

In early June, it also announced plans to invest up to $3 billion to develop resorts in Russia.

After meeting officials from Dalian Wanda in China, Gray — whose official title is Mayor of the District of Columbia, which is most commonly referred to simply as Washington DC — said detailed talks had been held about possible future projects in the Washington area.

"We were very excited to know a firm we met with will actually send a team of people here to look at some of the sites, learn more about those projects and open up discussion on their involvement in Washington," Gray told China Daily.

Gray said Washington would be "a great place to launch their presence in America", explaining that it is rich in the kind of real estate which could attract inward investment from Chinese companies looking at establishing a foothold in the US.

For Gray, who took office in January 2011, the trip to China was the first international trade mission of his term. It was also his first time in the home of the world's second-biggest economy.

"What is the best place to go to in terms of opportunities? It's China," he said, categorically.

In 2011, his district received about 123,000 visitors from China. But the city has had very few direct business contacts with the country, Gray said.

His delegation, which included top local officials and 16 business executives and academics, made a whistle-stop tour of Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou, in Jiangsu province, seeking investors in infrastructure, real estate and technology projects.

"We wanted to expand our relationship with China, strengthen ties with leaders of the government and businesses, and determine what opportunities are available for us," he said.

The group also renewed Washington's "sister-city" agreement, first signed in 1984, with Beijing, and pledged to focus more on economic development, particularly real estate, tourism and technology.

Following the practice of many US states, the mayor also opened the first District of Columbia trade office in China, in Shanghai.

In Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, DC-based George Washington University has agreed to open a campus.

The trade mission also launched its first project under the federal government's EB-5 visa program, which grants US residency to foreign entrepreneurs who plan to create jobs.

Gray said the project had so far attracted some $40 million in investment from Chinese investors.

Under the program, a foreign investor must finance US commercial ventures with between $500,000 and $1 million and create at least 10 full-time jobs.

They can set up a new enterprise, invest in a troubled business or put money into a pilot program overseen by the program.

China has now replaced South Korea as the top country of origin for EB-5 visa applicants.

In 2011, nearly 3,000 Chinese applied for an EB-5, three-quarters of the total applications, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In China, Gray pitched to investors the strengths of his city, which despite its relatively small size (only about 600,000 residents) is fueled by political power as the seat of the US government and, not coincidentally, respectable economic growth compared to many parts of the US.

"We grow at 2.7 percent, faster than any state," Gray said of the district. "We are a rapidly growing, dynamic city that people want to live in, and we are doing all the right things this point."

Gray said economic development is a good way to strengthen the US-China relationship.

"When people start working together, they will learn from each other and will do good things."