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Bounty of opportunities dot China's business landscape

By: Brennan Lafferty

May 9, 2014

SHANGHAI — Call it China culture shock.

Numerous massive cranes dot the vast skyline. The air is thick with pollution. Scores of people bump into my shoulders, my back, my front.

My observations fill my senses before I even arrive at my hotel.

On Day 1 at Chinaplas, exhibitors and attendees form separate lines to enter. More jostling for position. Once inside, the 17 exhibit halls are jammed. Jammed.

At the Plastics News China booth, attendees swarm our translator and event director, grabbing every brochure, every copy of Plastics News, European Plastics News and more. I hand out more business cards in an hour than makes me comfortable. I stash the remainder so they last the rest of the four days.

At dinner that night for exhibitors, show organizer Stanley Chu proudly proclaims he expects 120,000 attendees this week. Almost 40,000 people walked the grounds on Day 1, he says. He adds from the stage that 3,070 exhibitors are here, including 500 first timers.

During dinner, we play games directed by a hostess. It reminds me of wedding shower games women play in the States. What strikes me is how serious the Chinese are about winning these silly games. The Americans at our table are amused. But Steve Toloken, our Asia bureau chief, points out it’s no wonder China is so strong economically. The competitive nature of the country is tangible as people hustle around the room trying to win party games.

China continues to blossom with opportunity for U.S. companies. A vice president at one U.S.-based company tells me China is vital to their billion-dollar business as is Vietnam and the entire Asia Pacific region. A marketing manager at another U.S. company remarks that China represents 50 percent of its business in Asia. Both firms have two-story booths and dozens of employees here. Their investment is tangible. The next day, Plastics News reports Milicron of Cincinnati will double its capacity at its Chinese factory. It’s a $4 million to $5 million investment.

A consultant and U.S. expatriate stops by our booth. He wants my impression of Chinaplas. Outside of the pollution, I tell him I’m impressed. He shares that most Westerners he meets look down their noses at the people and companies here without knowing what they’re talking about. He has spent the equivalent to a year of his life in China and sees the business bounty here.

Full cultural immersion is not possible in a week’s time. But we do our best. One evening, we visit a karaoke club with our Chinese colleagues. If you’ve never been, it’s not what you might expect. About 20 small rooms dot the club. The seven of us sing with only ourselves to listen and laugh. It’s not the stage and bar scene that we experience in the States. Still, Green Day and Billy Joel never sound so good.

The next day we meet a potential partner about expanding our own presence here. It’s a good opportunity, right in our wheelhouse. We also hear that Chu’s estimate of 120,000 attendees is low. Second-day attendance exceeds 47,000.

Next day, I pack up, bleary-eyed. Last day. Like other firms, we’ll be back. The opportunity outweighs the culture shock.

Brennan Lafferty is publisher of Plastics News.