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Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth lays groundwork for investment by businesses during China trip

By David Paulk correspondent

FAIRLAWN: Only time will tell if Mayor William Roth’s trip to China was as beneficial as he had hoped it would be.  

The 10-day excursion last month was designed to bring new business into Fairlawn. Roth said there aren’t any concrete candidates, so far, but he admits the process might take some time.

“I’m sure they won’t all pan out,” Roth said. “But at the same point some will. It’s like catching lightning in a bottle.”

The bulk of his trip was spent in the city of Xiamen. Its trade show is a well-known hub for wealthy Chinese businessmen, who, with the permission of the government can invest overseas. There was a small American presence at the show, but Roth said he found himself competing with the reputation of prominent cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

“Our goal was to go there, put up a booth, and put Northeast Ohio on the map,” Roth said.

However, Fairlawn just wasn’t on most of the businessmen’s radar. 

“In fairness I don’t think the average American, including myself can name every province in China,” Roth said. “And likewise they can’t name all 50 states.”

In order to ease Chinese officials into the idea of investing in a smaller city, Roth said he laid out a few of the city’s stronger points. First off, the price of living here is cheaper he said. The price of land in Northeast Ohio pales in comparison to some of the nation’s larger cities.

Other attractions were also at his disposal, including the University of Akron, which is well known for its breakthroughs in polymer science; it also has a strong academic reach into China. He also promoted the Cleveland and Akron-Canton airports and the interstates as reasons for why Chinese businesses should lay roots in Fairlawn.

While competing with the big cities in the U.S. was a dilemma at first, promoting the American lifestyle helped further his objective. He said China’s young adult population like what they see in America and other nations.

“They see the standard of living, they see the environment, and now they are at home starting to push for more of that,” Roth said. “And the government is responding in degrees too what they are demanding.”

A larger point Roth tried to focus on was the financial stability of the United States, despite government shutdown and problems on Capitol Hill. From Roth’s perspective, China is going to be shipping less in the future. He believes they will opt to have their products made in the U.S, and he’s hoping to capitalize on this decision.

Conquering any doubts the Chinese had about doing business in Fairlawn was only half the trip. Roth said keeping up with basic etiquette was another challenge.  He said, in China putting a business card in a back pocket or wallet was seen as an insult. He added, learning how to use chopsticks goes a long way, even though silverware was typically provided.

The mission’s objective is in its infancy stages. Roth said the few companies he’s collaborating with are considering visiting Fairlawn.

“We would send them an invitation and they would have to get permission from their government to travel here,” Roth said.

Roth and council vice president Bryan Nance did some extensive traveling during the trip. They visited cities including: Shenyang, Fushun, Panjin, and Shanghai. The agenda was set by Akron-based law firm Brennan, Manna, and Diamond. According to Roth they have a strong presence in China.

Even though progress is slow Roth has no regrets.

“I think it was successful,” Roth said.  “I can’t particularly put a hand on a company for Fairlawn or the area, but I do know that there more than likely will be some visits in the spring.”

Although there aren’t any plans to return to China for a third trip, Roth hopes the Mayor’s Association will consider sending someone in the future.