Zhangjiagang  :   

Turning a talent grove into a forest

( China Daily Europe )

Updated: 2013-10-25

By Chen Yingqun

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Zhangjiagang waters its aspiring 'silicon valley' to attract new growth in emerging industries

Watch out Zhongguancun, here comes Zhangjiagang.

The first of these two cities, northwest of Beijing, has for more than 10 years reveled in its reputation as China's Silicon Valley, an incubator of ideas relating to electronics and computing.

But now Zhangjiagang, 1,000 kilometers to the south in Jiangsu province, is staking its claim to the title.

Technology and talent are key for the Californian Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, and Zhangjiagang's leaders seem to be well and truly switched on to the idea.

"Talent equals technology, and we need to bring in more high-tech talent to create the climate for good innovation," says Yao Linrong, Party chief of Zhangjiagang city, who visited Silicon Valley four years ago to see how the Americans do it.

"When I was there I saw a forest of talent," he says. "My idea for Zhangjiagang was to start by planting and nurturing a grove of talent and going on to create a forest."

Zhu Xin has also seen Silicon Valley up close. He worked there as an engineer for four years before returning to China five years ago to set up his own company. It moved to Zhangjiagang last year, attracted by the city's support for entrepreneurs.

"On the face of it, the city's business incentives and services are like those of other Chinese cities - things like subsidies, family placement, children's education and so on," he says.

"But after looking at things a lot more closely and talking to people here, you get the feeling that services may be much better and that the powers that be are really looking after you."

In 2011 the city set up an annual fund of 150 million yuan to encourage new talent to start companies and programs. This year it is 170 million yuan. The most sought-after are skills and talent in emerging industries, such as those dealing with high-tech equipment, new materials and new energy.

Yu Nianzhong, head of the city's talent enrollment office, says Zhangjiagang has made talent attraction and technology a higher priority than investment attraction and GDP.

"We made an assessment score system for every area's development," Yu says. "The scores for talent and technology are both 70, much higher than that for GDP and investment, both 50."

Under the talent program, the city has brought in eight national level high-tech industrial experts, 52 recognized at provincial level and 46 at city level.

Zhu has persuaded friends from Silicon Valley to join him in Zhangjiagang. They have now set up 11 companies in the photonics industry and formed an integrated photonics group for a better sales network and for handling legal issues. Most of the companies are at a formative stage.

Zhu says the city is constantly reviewing its efforts and monitoring its progress.

"The city's desire and embrace of new technology may outshine even big international cities like Shanghai," he says.

The market for some of the group's photonic products has not formed yet, but the Zhangjiagang government has the courage to support them in the belief it will see a boom in three to five years, he says.

"I think the city sees the future and is preparing for it. When we took some microchips to other cities, their governments wouldn't support us, because of the risks, but Zhangjiagang isn't afraid of risk. It is keen on trying new things, even on offering loans or adopting technology to finance."

Peng Cheng, who returned from Silicon Valley with Zhu and also started his own company in Zhangjiagang, says the city, which won the UN Habitat Scroll of Honor Award in 2008, has impressed him with its scenery and comfortable living environment.

"Zhangjiagang is clean and beautiful and the city is also trying to make our lives more varied."

He says the city has built an exclusive club, where business can be conducted and customers entertained. Nearby is a cultural center and theater.

However, Marius Stuckenberger, general manager of German company Krempel Solar Material (Jiangsu) Co Ltd, says, generally speaking, it is not so difficult to bring talent to the city - the problem lies more in keeping it.

"Zhangjiagang is a very nice and clean city, but it cannot compete with Shanghai or even Suzhou in living convenience for expats," he says. "So many expats live in Zhangjiagang only for working and return on the weekend to their family back in Shanghai, or even Beijing."


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