Wollongong could soon see an influx of Chinese business investment and tourists, according to Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, who returned from an eight-day trip to China this week.
Cr Bradbery travelled through industrial centres in Shanghai, Jinan and Longyan and was joined by the council's economic development manager, Mark Grimson.
When mooted by council staff in July, the trip was estimated to cost ratepayers about $14,000. This angered some of the Mercury's online readers, who said it was a "junket" and waste of council money.
However, Cr Bradbery said the trip had been well received in China and would have enormous flow-on for Wollongong residents.
While in Jinan, he visited an industrial and technological park similar to the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus to gather ideas on how to make Wollongong a hub for innovative technology production.
He had meetings with the Chinese branches of Wollongong-based businesses Internetrix and Bisalloy Steel, and fostered a stronger relationship with Pactera, which has a small office in Wollongong with plans to expand.
"This is a major Chinese software company who want to establish a hub here in Wollongong at the Innovation Campus, so I was able to encourage them in that," he said.
"Initially they are starting off with about 35 employees, but it could get up to about 1000."
Additionally, Cr Bradbery and Mr Grimson had a meeting with a consortium that hopes to develop a hotel and residential complex in the Wollongong CBD, at the old Charcoal Tavern site behind GPT's West Keira development.
"There is a consortium of local and Chinese investors interested in that site, and hopefully that would be a five-star hotel," Cr Bradbery said.
"I hosted a reception on the second night in Shanghai for tourist operators and investors to build on the links between Australia and China, in terms of attracting business," he said.
"There was a lot of interest in investment opportunities in Wollongong and I was basically just saying 'yes, we'd love to have your products here' and we presented a visual presentation to show people the region."
He said it would stimulate the local economy and ways would be sought to make the region more attractive to the emerging middle-class Chinese tourism market.
CR BRADBERY’S ITINERARY – SEPTEMBER 22-28
• Fly Sydney to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Monday-Tuesday – Shanghai
• Site visits to Shi Bei Hi-Tech & Service Devt Zone and Suzhou River Bay Development Project, and a meeting with the Governor of Zhabei District.
• Meeting and dinner with Shanghai-based representatives from Pactera.
• Meeting with Regent Street Development who are working with Chinese investors to invest in a major project in Wollongong’s CBD.
• Evening business dinner with Destination NSW attended by 33 people representing tourism operators and business investors looking to bring people to, or invest in, Wollongong.
Wednesday-Thursday – Jinan
• Time with Jinan City Municipal Government officials, who visited Wollongong in 2011.
• Meeting with Bisalloy Jigang (Shandong) Iron & Steel Co, which has a joint venture based in Wollongong.
• A tour of the Jinan high-tech development zone, similar to Wollongong’s Innovation Campus
• A dinner function co-ordinated by the Mayor of Jinan.
Friday-Saturday – Longyan
• Meetings with officials and the Mayor of Longyan, a Wollongong City Council friendship city since 2000.
• A site tour and meeting with China Longking Group, a manufacturer of construction machinery such as diggers and forklifts.
• Formal meeting and dinner with representatives from business and Longyan Municipal Government.
• Sightseeing co-ordinated by Longyan Municipal Government of major tourist sites in the region.
• Afternoon meeting and dinner with representatives from Internetrix’s China office.
• Flights from Xiamen, to Shanghai, to Sydney.