Nutter embarking on trade mission to China

The Philadelphia delegation will spend considerable time in Tianjin, a sister city that has seen explosive growth, much of it government-funded.
The Philadelphia delegation will spend considerable time in Tianjin, a sister city that has seen explosive growth, much of it government-funded. (File photo)
Posted: November 26, 2012

Mayor Nutter on Thursday takes off for China, hoping to raise Philadelphia's international profile, drum up business opportunities, and renew discussions about direct flights between the city and that country.

Representatives of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Drexel University, the airport, the law firm of White and Williams, and other area organizations will travel with Nutter.

"I think the serious opportunities for international trade and exchange and business opportunity are there," Nutter said Friday. "You have to be aggressive in going about getting it, and part of that is literally showing up and spending some time."

Eleven people will travel with Nutter as he embarks on his second official international trip as mayor. The first was a 2011 excursion to Rio de Janeiro for an urban-sustainability conference.

The team will spend much of its time in Tianjin, a coastal city about a 35-minute high-speed train ride from Beijing. Since 1980, Tianjin and Philadelphia have been Sister Cities, a cultural exchange program.

In some ways, Philadelphia and Tianjin have little in common. Philadelphia has 1.5 million people to Tianjin's 13 million. Tianjin is building a financial district many are calling the "new Manhattan." It includes 47 skyscrapers, with the government funding much of the construction.

The lightning-fast growth has fueled concerns about how to make sure Tianjin is built to last - and that's where Philadelphia comes in.

"One of our assets is that we have a city leadership that has been nationally recognized for . . . being a green city," said Merritt T. "Terry" Cooke, founder of the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia, a local nonprofit that, along with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, plans to sign an agreement with a Tianjin organization to develop and promote "clean" technologies in connection with the mayor's trip.

Nutter has made sustainability a centerpiece of his administration, creating a multiyear plan to add parkland, improve energy efficiency, and otherwise "green Philadelphia."

The effort has been gaining traction. Philadelphia's Navy Yard is now the site of a research hub trying to design and build energy-efficient structures and train workers in how to construct them. The hub is funded by a $129 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The weeklong trip came about because, as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Nutter was invited to speak in Beijing on Dec. 4-5 for the Paulson Institute's second annual conference in China on urban sustainability. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson founded the institute, a think tank at the University of Chicago that seeks to promote sustainable growth and a cleaner environment.

The institute has promoted conversations between mayors - Nutter will meet with Tianjin Mayor Huang Xingguo - because they play such a big role in environmental decisions, influencing everything from public transportation to building design.

"What Paulson has really focused on is that the pace of growth in China is not sustainable unless you change the way these cities are built," said Michele Davis, a spokeswoman for Paulson.

In addition to speaking at the Paulson seminar, Nutter and his team will meet with Chinese business and government leaders to talk about expanding business and trade. Among them will be an Air China executive, whom Nutter and Mark Gale, chief executive of the Philadelphia International Airport, will lobby to bring direct flights here.

Direct flights from China, for both passengers and cargo, will increase Philadelphia's appeal to both businesses and immigrants, who played a crucial role in the city's recent population growth, Nutter said.

In addition to Gale, Duane Bumb, the city's deputy director of commerce; Suzanne Biemiller, the mayor's first deputy chief of staff; and Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia, will travel with him. Select Greater Philadelphia will pay travel costs of about $8,500 using city funds paid to the economic-development organization. Representatives of the private organizations will pay their own way.

Nutter said the focus for his trip, from Thursday through the following Thursday, will be to promote business not only in Philadelphia but in the region, with its wealth of health-care, education, and other industries.

Fox Chase will represent the area's health-care companies. Kurt Schwinghammer, president of Fox Chase International and vice president of research and development alliances, said his organization will sign a "memorandum of understanding" during the trip to begin formalizing an existing training and research partnership with Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital.

As China's middle class grows, so does its health-care market, Schwinghammer said.

"At the end of the day, it's really about expanding our mission that we have here in the United States, which is to prevail over and reduce the burden of cancer," Schwinghammer said. Delegates from other private organizations include Mandy Hu, president of Asia Travel, who is helping to organize the trip; Gary Biehn, a White and Williams partner who is chair of the firm's China business group; Julie Mostov, Drexel's vice provost for Global Initiatives; and Wei Sun, a Drexel professor of mechanical engineering.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, of course, has long ties to China, beginning with its groundbreaking 1973 concert in Beijing and extending to a series of concerts in that country this year as part of a new residency program.

Craig Hamilton, the orchestra's vice president for global initiatives and government relations, will accompany Nutter on the trip. Every time Hamilton travels to China, people share their memories of the historic concert that followed President Richard Nixon's opening of the relationship between the countries.

"If you get into a cab in China and say you're from Philadelphia, the driver will say something about the orchestra," Hamilton said.

"What [the orchestra has] been doing is we have been waving the banner for Philadelphia over the years, so to have the mayor be there and be with us will be pretty extraordinary because he is representing the city from which the Philadelphia Orchestra comes and to which many of the Chinese people look as the ensemble that opened the door to Western culture."


Contact Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520

or hillmb@phillynews.com.

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