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Fairlawn mayor helps put area on map in China

3/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

Fairlawn Mayor William Roth is shown at the Great Wall of China during a recent economic development trip to China.
Photo courtesy of William Roth
FAIRLAWN — Fairlawn Mayor William Roth recently returned from a trip to China that he said was designed to make sure “Summit County and Northeast Ohio are on the map” among potential business investors.

In addition to Roth, he said some of the local officials who went on the trip included: Summit County Executive Russ Pry; Summit County Councilwoman Ilene Shapiro (D-at large); Connie Krauss, director of the Summit County Department of Community and Economic Development; Patricia Divoky, director of the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services; and Louis Berroteran, executive director of the Summit County Mayors Association.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic originally was scheduled to go as well.

“At the last minute, he had a change of schedule,” Roth said. “So he sent [Akron Deputy Mayor for Economic Development] Bob Bowman and [Akron Planning Director] Marco Sommerville.”

According to Roth, the trip originally was organized by the Summit County Mayors Association.

“And we also worked with the law firm of Brennan, Manna & Diamond, which does extensive business over there. They have Chinese connections,” he said. “We were requested to go because Akron has a very good connection with its sister city Qingdao — it’s called ‘Rubber Valley’ over there.”

Roth left for the trip Feb. 27 and returned home on the night of March 10.

“The trip went very well. We were very busy,” he said. “The first couple of days, we were in Beijing. Then we went to Qingdao. From there, we went to Nanchang and then on to Shanghai. We left Shanghai and went back to the states.”

The trip included visits to numerous tourist attractions, Roth said, but the group had a heavy docket of business meetings.

“When we went there, we toured manufacturing facilities, we toured research parks, we met with investors — potential investors to come over to the United States — and we toured ‘Rubber Valley.’ One of our main purposes was for their government people to meet with us,” he said. “When you do business with China, nothing really can be done without government permission. Once the government understands what’s going on, then the businesses can interact directly with you.”

Roth said his group was able to explain the advantages to working with Summit County.

“What this area can offer them is that we have the infrastructure in place — the throughways, the railroads, the airport, things like that. We have a talented, experienced work force, whether it’s in manufacturing or in research and laboratories. And we have the education — they are very aware of The University of Akron and the universities we have here,” the mayor said. “They also look at the cost of doing business and, frankly, when we explain the land cost, the cost of living and the pace of life vs. the East and West coast, we become a very attractive option.”

Roth said the Summit County group talked with “a whole cross section of businesses” while in China.

“The Chinese have their own markets — they manufacture over there and they obviously export over here — and a lot of their business plans are looking to increase their home consumption and reduce exports,” he stated. “But at the same time, they’re looking to invest in the United States because one of the things you have now is that the wages in China are slowly rising. They’ll never equal what we have here. They just won’t, because there is such a labor pool there, but when you add the higher wages to the cost of transportation across the ocean, then that gap is narrowing. What they’re realizing is that it could be a lot easier and cheaper and effective for them to have factories and laboratories over here.”

According to Roth, both sides had interpreters present at the meetings, but he said most of the people his group met with were able to speak in English.

Roth said protocol was very important in meetings.

“When you have a meeting, it starts out very formal,” he said. “You are at tables, generally U-shaped tables, and you face each other. The head of their group will open the meeting, and when he is done, they expect our head to give a response. From there, they go to different ranks. After that, they generally open the meeting up. The dinners are a bit like that, too. They started very formally.”

Another difference is the way business cards are presented and accepted.

“Here, we give it to another person, they take a glance at it and put it away,” Roth said. “There, you hand the business card with two hands, you accept a business card with two hands, you read it — you look at the person and you read their position — and whatever you do, you don’t put a business card in your back pocket. That’s an insult. Generally, I would lay the business card on the table while I was talking to the person, and when I was done, I would put the card in my breast pocket.”

In the end, Roth said he believes the trip will prove beneficial to this area.

“First of all, it reinforced the ties Akron already has, which benefits this whole area,” he said. “And now there is the potential that the group we met in Beijing and later in Shanghai could possibly come here by the end of this year or early next year to tour Summit County. ... I can’t predict for sure that will happen, because, unlike us, they have to get government permission. But the point is that we’ve sparked an interest and we’ve solidified some relationships that already existed.”

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