In China, Nutter gets close-up look at emerging economic giant - and Philadelphia partner

In Tianjin, Mayor Nutter looks over a model of a $3 billion economic development project funded by the governments of China and Singapore.
In Tianjin, Mayor Nutter looks over a model of a $3 billion economic development project funded by the governments of China and Singapore. (JENNIFER LIN / Staff)
Posted: December 04, 2012

TIANJIN, China - This port city of 13 million on the coast of northern China could really give an American mayor a serious case of investment envy.

For Mayor Nutter, that feeling may have started the moment he boarded a bullet train in Beijing's Jetsons-style rail station for the 69-mile, 33-minute journey to Tianjin.

Or maybe it was when his police escort here took him past some of the factories of 185 of the world's Fortune 500 companies, including GlaxoSmithKline.

Or when he viewed a model of a master plan for an economic development zone rising from salt flats and equal in size to Center City and South Philadelphia combined.

Or saw miles and miles of cargo containers waiting to leave the port of Tianjin.

"Staggering," was how Nutter described his first working day in China.

Nutter is the first mayor to visit Philadelphia's sister city Tianjin. The purpose of his weeklong trip is to raise the profile of Philadelphia and, in the process, drum up investment and connections between the two port cities. But the visit could just as well be about the education of Nutter.

It's one thing to read about Tianjin's 20 percent annual economic growth.   It's quite another to listen to port officials explain how the port of Tianjin has expanded by reclaiming land from the Bohai Sea to accommodate 23 new cargo cranes to unload ships. (The Port of Philadelphia has five cargo cranes.)

Many of the ships that dock here deliver raw materials to factories in the coastal south and return with ballast of sand - in order to build a new beach for a proposed new residential community on some of the port's reclaimed land.

"Seeing what goes on here is a reminder of the things we can do and must do to maintain our presence on the world stage," Nutter said.

It also underscores "what our federal government can do if we would have, at times, a little less debate and a whole lot more work and understand that investment brings job and activity and furthers American interests," said Nutter, who also is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Against this backdrop of economic hyperactivity, what can Philadelphia offer Tianjin?

As the trade mission demonstrates, brainpower with a dollop of creativity.

The trip, which came together quickly after Nutter was invited by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to address a Beijing conference this week on sustainability, includes representatives from medicine (Fox Chase Cancer Center), education (Drexel University), law (White & Williams law firm) and the arts (Philadelphia Orchestra).

Rounding out the group, a nonprofit in Philadelphia, the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia, is working as a platform for organizations and companies that want to capitalize on green energy issues encouraged by a U.S.-China government initiative. Philadelphia is home to a new, federally funded center for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from buildings.

The first day of the Philadelphia mission was devoted to seeing the economic sites of Tianjin. The second day will be dedicated to cementing new relationships. Since 1980, Tianjin and Philadelphia have participated in Sister Cities, a cultural exchange program.

Drexel is expanding its presence in China by forging new ties with Tianjin's Nankai University. The Philadelphia university already has significant connections with Chinese institutions. A Drexel engineering professor in the delegation, Wei Sun, has a joint appointment with Tsinghua University's Biomanufacturing Engineering Research Institute.

Meanwhile, a famous Drexel alumnus - Jiang Mianheng, son of former Chinese president Jiang Zimen - helped connect the university with the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute (SARI), part of the national Chinese Academy of Sciences. Together, they now operate the Drexel-SARI Center.

"We believe that universities in general are significant drivers of economic development in cities and we want to be part of Philadelphia being recognized as a global player," said Julie Mostov, vice provost of global initiatives at Drexel.

Fox Chase Cancer Center has been expanding its connections in China, said Kurt Schwinghammer, president of Fox Chase International. It works with hospitals in four cities - Beijing, Xian, Qiqihar, and Benxi - by offering training for Chinese doctors, nurses, and management staff; collaborating on research; and advising Chinese cancer centers on best practices.

On Monday, Fox Chase Cancer Center will sign its fifth agreement with the Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute.

Finally, the Philadelphia law firm White & Williams is penning an agreement with its Tianjin partner, the Winner Law Firm, and the Philadelphia Orchestra will advance plans for a four-day visit to Tianjin in June.

For all the members of the Philadelphia delegation, the mayor's participation brings a high-level official stamp to their efforts - critical to doing business in China, said Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitors Center of Philadelphia, who helped to coordinate the trip.

"We've been nurturing relationships for years and years," Gilboy said. "This really makes a difference."

Watch a video of Mayor Nutter on his trade mission to China at


Contact Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659,, or follow on Twitter @j_linq.

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