Hengqin New Area in Zhuhai and Macao Special Administrative Region on January 28 (VCG)
Tan Jianming graduated with a master's degree in refrigeration technology when he was 25 years old in 1989, a time when postgraduate students were a rare thing in China. He gave up many job opportunities in big cities and went instead to work in a small factory in Zhuhai, a city in south China's Guangdong Province.
Developing from a little fishing and salt-producing town, Zhuhai was officially established as a city in 1979. The city has then grown to become a talent magnet after it grabbed hold of the opportunities that came with the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in China in the late 1970s.
Starting from scratch
After Tan arrived in Zhuhai, he felt a little disappointed. The factory he worked for only made some simple products like fans along with air conditioners to make ends meet. But he still believed in his choice.
"It was not the factory but the city that was appealing to me then," Tan told Beijing Review. "Many startups were being founded here which offered many opportunities. Besides, people were being promoted based on capability, not seniority."
At the beginning of China's reform and opening up, most Chinese people were still living under a planned economic system. They were proud to work in state-owned factories which offered stable incomes. The special economic zones (SEZs) that sprang up were places where new ideas were tested and new methods tried, where only the trailblazers dared to go.
Zhuhai was among the first batch of SEZs established in the 1980s to attract foreign direct investment.
"There were about 10 technicians in Gree (Haili at the time) when I joined the factory," Tan said. Now, he is vice president of Gree Electric Appliances Inc., a well-known Chinese appliance manufacturer.
Tan witnessed Gree's growth from a small factory to a listed private company with more than 90,000 employees including 12,000 engineers, and many intellectual properties and labs. The growth of the company is a microcosm of Zhuhai's changes in the past 40 years.
After being selected as one of the initial SEZs in the country and getting its first major growth opportunity, Zhuhai is again in the spotlight thanks to the development plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
Tan Jianming, Vice President of Gree Electric Appliances Inc., introduces products of his company on May 28 (WANG XIANG)
In February, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, China's cabinet, issued an outline plan for the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. It incorporates nine cities in Guangdong, namely Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing, as well as the adjacent Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (SARs), covering 56,000 square km and with 70 million people.
The proposal, which was first introduced in the government work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang on March 5, 2017, has concretized from a concept to a plan after concerted efforts over the following two years.
The Greater Bay Area has the highest density of harbors and airports in the world and is currently among the four largest international bay areas with the world's top annual throughput of port containers and airport passengers.
Bryan Li, founder and CEO of Smarcle (Zhuhai) Inc., a brand management company, moved his company to Zhuhai in 2018. The company was established in Beijing in 2015. He spent at least 1 million yuan ($144,500) a year to cover rent in downtown Beijing, while in Zhuhai, he pays about 50,000 yuan ($7,225) due to rent subsidies provided by the local government.
"Beijing has more talent, but the turnover rate is also very high. It's a little more challenging to hire people you want in Zhuhai, but once you have them, they are pretty much secure," Li said.
Chen Tianlan works at his company in Hengqin New Area on May 26 (WANG XIANG)
From neighbors to partners
The Greater Bay Area's uniqueness lies in its diversified institutional environment. It includes two SARs, two SEZs, and parts of the Guangdong Free Trade Zone (FTZ). The interaction among different institutions offers the area unlimited possibilities, making it an attractive destination for global capital and high-caliber personnel.
Hengqin Island is definitely a highlight of Zhuhai's role in the Greater Bay Area. It's the biggest island in Zhuhai and the distance to Macao is only around 200 meters.
"Macao entrepreneurs do not need to register in Hengqin if they want to do business here," said Mu Baijun, Human Resources Director with the Hengqin New Area Committee of the Zhuhai Municipal Government. "They can also enjoy a series of incentives including rent subsidies, free training and free shuttle buses between Macao and Hengqin."
After the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the world's longest sea-crossing bridge, opened to traffic in October 2018, Hengqin became the only place in China that borders both Hong Kong and Macao, which paves the way for Hengqin's further opening up.
Huo Huixiao, who moved to Macao from Guangdong five years ago, was able to transform stamp collecting from a hobby into a career in Macao, and now he has brought his dream back to the mainland thanks to attractive incentives in Hengqin.
The business of Huo's company includes app development, which is based on the mainland, and organizing stamp collecting-related cultural activities in Macao. Currently, he is planning to organize a stamp museum which can exhibit Macao's history at Hengqin Innovalley, an incubator for business projects.
Launched in June 2015, Hengqin Innovalley has incubated 347 projects, with projects from Macao accounting for more than half. It provides one-stop services ranging from setting up in Hengqin to talent recruitment, IP and law consultancy and financing. It has become one of the first pilot bases in Guangdong to provide precise services for Macao entrepreneurs to start businesses in the province. Macao startups pay no rent for the first three years.
"It's not that easy to expand a business in Macao. I prefer to base my career somewhere close to Macao," Huo told Beijing Review. "Fortunately, Hengqin is so close to Macao and is also part of the Guangdong FTZ. That's why it was my first choice."
Hengqin became a Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao cooperation pilot zone in 2009. Six years later, the island was included in the Guangdong FTZ. With many exclusive incentives for entrepreneurship, it has become a magnet for business, particularly science and technological companies.
In order to make its industry more diversified and further explore its tourism resources, Hengqin was designated a tourist destination, an innovation hub and a gateway to more mainland cities by offering more entrepreneurial facilities, job opportunities and attractive and familiar living conditions for residents from Hong Kong and Macao.
"We hope that our product, which is designed in Macao today, can be made in Macao in the future," said Chen Tianlan, who founded a company of medical equipment manufacturing in Hengqin after he graduated from the University of Macao (UM).
Chen thinks it's possible since Macao has lower tariffs compared to the mainland, which will lower the cost of manufacturing if imported materials are needed. Therefore, products made in Macao will be more competitive.
In Hengqin, Hong Kong and Macao companies don't need to register for commercial activities or taxation like mainland startups. They only need to register at the Hengqin New Area Committee.
Since the Greater Bay Area development outline was issued in February, Hengqin has taken many measures to facilitate Macao entrepreneurs and employees. A commuter bus that is free of charge was put into use on March 1, and in the same month the Hengqin Headquarters complex, another office building with Macao companies as the main target client, opened.
Many Macao companies are not familiar with the laws and regulations on the mainland. For this reason, there are law offices co-managed by law firms from Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong that provide services for business or personal integration into the Greater Bay Area.
"You can find lawyers who understand the laws in Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland. Clients can enjoy a one-stop service without having to go to different places," said Chen Yi, Director of ZLF Law Office established in Hengqin in 2016.
In addition, think tanks focus on the integration of the Greater Bay Area in terms of legal cooperation. In June, Zhuhai established a research center in Hengqin on innovation of the rule of law led by the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
Chen Su, Director of the CASS Law Institute, said the research center will provide guidance for Zhuhai's role in the construction of the Greater Bay Area.
Cradle of innovation
Chen Tianlan said Hengqin is the perfect place to commercialize the fruits of his research on digital microfluidics chip system. About a year after receiving his doctoral degree in 2017, he founded Digifluidic, a company focusing on portable medical testing, with an authorized patent from UM.
When he tried to combine this technology with DNA analysis, he knew there was a lot of potential if this combination could be applied to the medical market.
DNA analysis is necessary in the diagnosis of many diseases, such as infectious diseases and cancer. However, the traditional way of testing is complicated, time-consuming and demands a high level of technical skills. But Chen Tianlan's little chip can solve all these issues.
He hopes that one day patients can use a smart device to test for cold viruses or abnormal DNA without having to go to crowded hospitals.
His daily work includes research, production and testing, often conducted at UM. But he doesn't have to go back to Macao frequently because UM also has a campus and an institute in Hengqin responsible for academic exchanges and research and development.
The cooperation between UM and Hengqin New Area will be expanded after the two sides signed an agreement earlier this year. Hengqin will invest another 100 million yuan ($14.4 million) to support UM's scientific research.
"Next, we are going to cooperate with other Macao universities such as the Macao University of Science and Technology and the City University of Macao," said Wang Kun, Enterprise Cultivation Department Manager with HQFI Innovalley Incubator Management Co. Ltd., the managing company of Hengqin Innovalley. "The focus will be on student exchanges, entrepreneurship and cooperating on current scientific research challenges."
Zhuhai is also vying for top universities from around the country to establish new campuses because of the city's sound business environment.
To date, 10 universities, including Sun Yat-Sen University, Beijing Normal University, Beijing Institute of Technology and Hong Kong Baptist University, have established campuses in Zhuhai, a city with less than 2 million residents, which will nurture future talent for the whole Greater Bay Area.
(Reporting from Zhuhai, Guangdong Province)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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