Friday 10th November - China - So What?
This is actually my fifth visit to China and yet the blog headlines this week - über-massive and mind-boggling - still reflect the surprise, shock even, of a first timer.
It's hard to overstate the pace of change here and impossible not to accept its impending impact on the world.
Let me put it like this.
Imagine it's 1917 and you are given the opportunity to reach New York City in 12 hours. Once there, you can take a glimpse at an emerging America. You see a fresh country, confident it is about have its day. You return with a dose of respect and a sense we need to step up our game.
Useful or waste of time?
In a nutshell, this is how a trip to China in 2017 feels.
Historically, Britain prides itself on being an outward-looking trading nation. We appear to have lost some momentum and hunger but Brexit has put trade right at the centre of debate. Whatever happens, our trade with Europe will soon decline and the imperative is to find new markets. In this context, what better place to start than China?
Our mission this week therefore had two functions.
The first was to fly the flag for the Midlands.
The Department for International Trade sponsored a UK pavilion at the China International Industry Fair and a delegation of 50 people from across the region came to ensure the Midlands is on the radar.
Having commissioned KPMG, we launched a 3-year strategy, intended to support greater trade links between China and the Midlands.
It was a good start, given some official muscle by the presence of a cabinet minister, and we will soon meet in Coventry to look at activating the plan.
The second objective was to further develop our local relationship with Hefei and Anhui.
In China symbols count, as business is based on longevity and trust.
Following an initial visit in 2016, by Derby City Council's Leader and CEO, progress has been remarkable. The past year has seen a number of visits in both directions. Only 2 weeks ago 27 delegates from Hefei visited Derby and the fact that 20 delegates reciprocated this week has been taken as a clear indication that we are serious.
In terms of tangible outputs small beginnings are starting to show.
Both City and County Councils have fulfilled their role in keeping the civic relations warm. Don't underestimate how important this is. This will soon result in a D2 envoy, based full-time in Hefei, giving us an invaluable asset on the ground.
Marketing Derby produced an investment brochure and film (in mandarin of course) with 20 example of investable options and we are starting to get early stage expressions of interest following the B2B meetings held this week.
Business delegates are all returning with hot contacts and tourism relations took a major step forward with first visits likely in 2018.
The University of Derby has significant ambitions, having already employed staff in China and this week opened an office in Shanghai, with exchanges of professors and students already starting.
Also, Derby County has made a number of visits and again, sporting exchanges will soon begin.
In fact the Chinese delegates who came to Derby were still purring about their fantastic experience at Pride Park where DCFC hosted them as VIP guests at the recent Sheffield Wednesday game.
And so, as the headline asks...so what?
Well my answer is simple.
As the 21st century evolves cities like Derby, and in turn countries like the UK, are going to have to find a place, new ways of attracting jobs and investment.
Just as 100 years ago we could no longer ignore America, then so today we need to do our best to win new friends. Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham have been doing this for some time.
Derby and Derbyshire might be on catch up but our progress is rapid and, by focusing on Hefei and Anhui as our China market entry points, we might just be onto something special...watch this space.