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Archive for May 2010

Sunpu Opto: DOA

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Sunpu-Opto in Cleveland is on the back burner for now, tabled and unlikely to return without a substantial change. Mayor Frank Jackson, likely seeking to avoid poisoning his future agenda if Sunpu went bad, and facing a hostile council barely willing to pass the related legislation (10 to 9), tabled the deal indefinitely and said he will explore other options. Many council members expressed relief and I agree with them. This was moving too fast with too little information.

I hope this isn’t the end of Cleveland’s efforts to bring Chinese business to the shores of Lake Erie. Cleveland needs a reboot in its thinking, but making a bad deal for the sake of making a deal isn’t the way to go after this. The thing is, will we ever really know if this was a bad or good deal? Sunpu didn’t even show up to the meeting where council debated the issue, nor has it sent anyone to Cleveland (to my knowledge) despite signing an MOU, and much of the Chinese-language material remained untranslated. Mayor Jackson, if you ever need someone to do some due diligence for you, look me up. Really. I’m happy to help.

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Written by Michael

May 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Who is Sunpu-Opto? / 宁波升谱光电半导体有限公司是谁啊?

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Cleveland is my hometown, my destination for law school, and a city in an economic tailspin. Beginning in the 1970’s, the decline of heavy manufacturing, white flight to the suburbs and demographic shifts to the American west and southwest combined to create a perfect storm of urban decay, throwing what was once the country’s third-most important city into third-tier has-been status. The past three decades have been a combination of abortive attempts to arrest the decline and to shift the city’s development in a new direction. As it stands, Cleveland has perhaps 400,000 residents in the borders of the city, a couple million in the ‘greater cleveland’ area, and no particular focus economically now that the LeBron James economic stimulus package has concluded.

Home sweet home.

The latest scheme to be hatched in hopes of bringing some innovation or at least some new jobs to Cleveland is Mayor Frank Jackson’s plan to award a 10-year no-bid contract for LED lighting to the Ningbo Shengpu Lighting Company, known in English as Sunpu-Opto. The reaction of most Clevelanders was predictable: “WHO? Why award an exclusive, no-bid, ten-year contract on a relatively new product to a relatively, no, completely unknown Chinese company, when General Electric has a lighting-focused industrial park with historic ties to the city, which, by the way, employs 1,200 people? You’re selling our city to the Chinese!”

I can understand the anti-China sentiment. This is a city that knows China chiefly as a destination for what may have once been their jobs or the jobs of their family and friends. There is only a small Asian population and I have no idea how active actual ties are between them and China. In the legal community, two of the major downtown law firms are heavily involved in China, and at least one of the smaller firms is as well, but blue-collar workers, which Cleveland has historically been built upon, have little love in their hearts for China, nor for seemingly ‘unfair’ foreign investment schemes that leave American companies out in the cold. Even given all that background, I think attracting foreign investment to Cleveland is an absolute imperative if the city is ever going to experience growth, let alone arrest its slow and steady decline. Cities in transition need shocks to their system.

However, is this move by the mayor and city council (which apparently supports the mayor, who is the former council president) the best way to advertise Cleveland as open for FDI? Jackson has said he’s advancing a new paradigm of city development: If you want Cleveland to make an investment in you, you need to make an investment in Cleveland. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, that’s not a bad idea. But no-bid contracts have a funny way of hurting people’s feelings, and Cleveland has had such a lovely history with hurt feelings and major benefactors packing their bags and leaving: Rockefeller (yes, 30 Rock could have been in Cleveland, but where would Liz Lemon have gone in the ‘Cleveland’ episode? Milwaukee?), Art Modell and the Browns, LeBron (not yet, but…)…do we want to add GE to that list? Is that even a real risk, or is GE just blowing smoke?

I wonder what Dan Gilbert thinks of this. Where will the HQ be located? Is there a master plan, a way to bring more business in, or are we really just grasping at any opportunity that presents itself? I really want to see more foreign business in Cleveland, and I’m not going to shy away from throwing some serious incentives at companies to invest in Cleveland, but how in the world is Sunpu-Opto suddenly the best or even the only option for this sort of agreement? Another company, Fawoo, has indicated it could relocate its US operations from Akron to Cleveland in Sunpu’s place. Cleveland’s government says they looked at Fawoo but weren’t satisfied. Company officials reject Cleveland’s reasons. Who’s telling the truth? Who stands to gain?

Written by Michael

May 18, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Looking Back, Moving Forward

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Mei banfa, which essentially means “Well, there’s nothing for it,” is one of the most commonly-heard expressions in China. Traffic is tied up again? Mei banfa, there are so many people! The government censored your blog/book/movie? Mei banfa, some things are not suitable for open discussion. You have to wait four hours at the hospital even though you have important things to do? Mei banfa, healthcare is always in demand. It can also be used as a lame excuse, a brush-off, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

In my experience as a foreigner, foreigners adapt to the constant use of mei banfa in several stages. First, surprise. Really? There’s NOTHING you can do? Second, anger. Give me a break! If only you’d do such-and-such-and-such, this would be EASY! You’re not trying hard enough! Arrrgh! Third, begrudging acceptance. Alright, I’ll relax. This isn’t my country; things are different; deep breath; okay. Personally, I’m perpetually in a rage-filled limbo between stages two and three. On a good day, I’m happy to abide by the ways and mores of my host country. On a bad or merely average day, I’ll pay you any amount of money to give me your spot in line or suggest re-routing traffic through the Gates of Hell if it means I get to the office a few minutes faster. I do not suggest I am a tolerant individual. God willing, I will do better.

I envy the tolerance of Chinese people for frustrating situations. There are too many difficulties in life to face head-on; this is true everywhere. The tolerance that Chinese people exude in all aspects of life, towards politics, traffic congestion, pollution, or whatever – is exceptional. I firmly believe that down to the cellular level, Chinese people are better prepared to face any survival-level challenge than almost anyone on earth. Yes, China convulses with panic anytime someone sneezes and their snot is an interesting new color, fearing that this is the big one, the epidemic that will ravage their dense proto-metropolises, but I still don’t fear the plague. In this respect, I think China is probably helping the world more than it’s hurting it. All these people with their white cells constantly overworked, desperate to deal with new threats and, until the last few generations, starved of the nutrients necessary to mount an effective defense, are probably the ones who will remain after the bird flu kills the rest of us. They’ve had practice. The rest of us have built little bio-domes and lost our ability to deal with any damn thing, be it a new disease or a paperwork snafu.

A hope that I cling to, other than the futile hope that I may become a Zen master, is that in my years here in China I have picked up some of this ability to cope, rather than simply reinforcing my existing tendencies to be impatient and selfish. Certainly there is no shortage of the petty and mean here, but there is also a surprisingly abundance of tolerance and a sort of dogged determination to move forward that I identify with. There was a survey done not long ago by Gallup that essentially aggregated a large number of smaller polls done all around the world to determine which countries were the most optimistic. China ranked staggeringly low – falling below Iraq by several percentage points. Why? Surely China is developing so rapidly that some of its people must feel good about things. And yet this seeming discrepancy does not overly surprise me. Many Chinese have come to expect the worst while still striving for the best, and I like this mindset. Optimism and fatalism together. Yes, sometimes there’s simply nothing for it, but tomorrow will be better.

Written by Michael

May 5, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized