In both Liverpool and Lancashire, there is a strong sense of Chinese cultural heritage which canny operators are using to develop their business, writes Tom Pattinson
Liverpool’s deep relationship with China goes back to the 1830s when ships bringing silks and cotton and tea from China docked in Liverpool’s famous port. Alfred Holt who founded the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, hired a large number of Chinese seamen in the 1860s as he traded between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Liverpool. Since then there has always been a strong Chinese presence in the city and the town’s Chinatown is the oldest in Europe, with the Chinese Arch that marks Chinatown’s entrance the tallest of any outside of China.
Last year, Liverpool saw the number of Chinese listed companies investing into the region reach an all-time high. According to Mi Tang, Head of China Affairs at Invest Liverpool: “High-tech is the preferred choice for Chinese investment with priority sectors ranging from life sciences, gaming, sports, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing,” says Mi. Chinese SMEs are also interested in the culture and education businesses in the region.
One of the most recent investment projects is Cogita Development Liverpool, co-funded by Dongke Chuangxing, a Chinese national innovation centre based in the heart of the Optics Valley of Wuhan, China. Cogita’s platform brings together Innovative Incubation, International Interaction, and an Angel Investment Fund, all under one roof. It focuses on information technology, life sciences, clean energy, new materials, artificial intelligence, big data, intelligent manufacturing and other technological innovations.
“We are establishing an incubator to invest in high-tech start-ups,” says Dr Yi Ye, the founder of Cogita Development Liverpool. “A strong talent pool, good research abilities, as well as an open culture and convenient transport links were all important factors when deciding upon Liverpool as our hub.”
Last year, Liverpool saw the number of Chinese listed companies investing into the region reach an all-time high
The company, that launched in December 2018 in Liverpool Science Park, says that the three universities and the large number of research institutes in the city, which attracts some of the world’s best researchers and scholars, was a major pull. The University of Liverpool has produced nine Nobel prize winners and the city is among the best in the UK for its work in the fields of chemistry, life-sciences and advanced manufacturing.
Furthermore, Liverpool is within a short distance of Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds and only two hours from London. The Northern Powerhouse programme is expected to further improve transport and logistics between the north and the south.
“Plus, the cost of operation of the company in Liverpool is cheaper than operating a business in Manchester or London,” says Ye. “Liverpool is the first city we operate our business from in the UK. The local operation team has been established. In the future, we hope to expand our business from Liverpool to the whole of the north of England.”
ZPMC, the largest heavy-duty equipment manufacturer in the world, has also recently launched their UK headquarters in Liverpool. The company makes machines and cranes for handing large port containers and for use in wind power, installing ship parts, seawater desalinisation and providing the steel structure for the latest of the Forth Bridges at the Queensferry Crossing in Scotland.
After Peel Group chose ZPMC as their exclusive crane supplier for Peel Port Liverpool Terminal 2, it gave the company the confidence to establish a UK based firm, says Daniel Zhong, Director of ZPMC UK. The company will provide technical services and spare parts for the crane equipment used in the ports but Zhong sees this as a first step into the UK market.
Since launching three years ago, ZPMC UK has seen its business expand year on year and has built strong relationships with local partners and suppliers, both technical and within regional government, which, says Zhong, has enabled further skills sharing and cooperation.
“Having a ZPMC team with technical know-how in the UK has certainly made communication and cooperation much easier than communicating with the overseas team,” says Zhong. “Not only are we providing legacy services but we’re offering extended business support such as smart parking solutions and terminal tractors. Our main target is to develop more legacy products and related services, and we expect to see substantial growth in the coming years. ZPMC UK will have a golden future and this bridge between United Kingdom and China will be as strong as the steel structure that ZPMC manufactured,” says Zhong.
Just north of Liverpool, Lancashire’s Fylde coast is also attracting Chinese interest. The Port of Fleetwood is currently undergoing regeneration with the waterfront land being of interest to a Chinese company active in the area. The promotors of the Wyre Dock Development have earmarked a site for a year-round botanic leisure attraction called Gardens of China, involving the Dutch specialist botanical architectural firm Smiemans Projecten. “This forms part of a hotel, residential and leisure attraction scheme that uses waterfront land near to the River Wyre estuary that accesses the Irish Sea,” says John Woodman of Wyre Dock Development.
“The transport infrastructure and upgrade investment will involve a new hydrogen cell powered bus fleet for area operator Blackpool Transport Services in a deal led by UK bus manufacturer Alexander-Dennis and a Chinese partner” says Woodman. A former rail line into Fleetwood is also being proposed for a demonstrator tram-train service using the latest designs from a Chinese rail equipment manufacturer who is entering the UK market.
Read more about China’s investment into the Leeds City Region
Read more about China’s investment into the North East
Read more about China’s investment into the Manchester