The Yangtze River basin city of Suzhou has belonged totally to China for the past 2,500 years, but today it looks like San Jose, California in the early 1990s. One-time fish farms and cropland on two sides of the city are mushrooming into high-tech industrial parks for foreign-financed companies because overseas business people have found over the past few years they like the region's modern infrastructure, tech-savvy population and local government support.
Suzhou, along with its better known neighbor, Shanghai, and the east China coastal region as far south as Hangzhou, are attracting hundreds of electronics, software, mobile communications, and pharmaceutical companies that want to research, manufacture or sell in Asia. Although most of the area's business, especially that of big-name companies, is manufacturing, company officials say the local talent and infrastructure that support manufacturing should also motivate future expansions of research and development.
"I wouldn't underplay the manufacturing potential of the Suzhou-Hangzhou region, particularly the former--Suzhou is still a manufacturing power base," said Stephen Casale, who works for Ogilvy & Mather in Shanghai doing public relations work for foreign IT firms. "But the region carries with it a rich history of producing scholars and civil servants. The heritage of scholarship has continued and is manifest in the region's respect for and success in education, research and in its relative affluence. That translates today into a good basis to find highly qualified individuals for top R&D in various sectors."
But no one can actually say how many local people have the skills for R&D jobs. Meanwhile, the region is hardly the only place in Asia high-tech executives can choose for expansions or relocations. Industrial parks near educated communities speckle the entire China coast.
Nevertheless, company representatives say they like the Shanghai-Suzhou region because it's close to Shanghai's port, the local infrastructure approaches the level of Western countries, and because local people have the right education but work for relatively low local wages. Local governments have also kept land prices lower than in other parts of...