B&R sparks business opportunities in China’s ‘lighting capital’
Chen Yongqiang owns a company with only 20 staff members in a small Chinese town, but his business card has English on one side.
Workers coordinate at a textile factory in Zhongshan, South China's Guangdong Province. (Photo: VCG)
Two years ago, Chen established Leayol, a light manufacturing company in Guzhen town, which is under the jurisdiction of Zhongshan in South China's Guangdong Province.
The company had a production value of more than 5 million yuan ($791,000) in 2017.
"Although my company is small, we plan to further explore the markets along the Belt and Road (B&R)," Chen said.
Leayol is among 25,000 lighting companies based in Guzhen, which covers an area of less than 48 square kilometers and has 150,000 permanent residents.
But one million businesspeople from around the world come to the town to look for potential cooperation with local firms every year.
Guzhen has benefited from foreign trade as China pushes forward the B&R initiative, which is aimed at building trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trade routes to seek common development and prosperity.
"The initiative brings new opportunities for small and micro manufacturers," said Ou Decheng, deputy chairman of the Zhongshan Lighting and Electric Appliances Association.
About 30 percent of lighting products manufactured in Zhongshan are exported, and the proportion has been rising in recent years, Ou said.
Strength to strength
Dubbed China's "lighting capital," Guzhen rivals international lighting manufacturing centers such as Milan, Frankfurt and Dallas.
Its products are sold to more than 130 countries and regions. The town's lighting industry has exceeded a value of 100 billion yuan, accounting for more than 70 percent of the value of China's total lighting sector.
Zhu Yongqing worked in the industry in Guzhen for nine years before setting up a foreign trade company in 2014 to assist local small and micro-sized businesses.
The primary service of Zhu's company is organizing exhibitions in countries and regions along the B&R routes.
"I want to provide a platform to help more companies transform from the current mode of 'basing sales on production' to 'basing production on sales,' which would be a win-win situation for sellers and buyers," Zhu said.
With more Chinese businesses becoming active in the international arena, 'Belt and Road' has become a common phrase in negotiations with foreign customers, Zhang Diansheng, a market advisor, told the Xinhua News Agency.
China's foreign trade volume rose 14.2 percent to 27.79 trillion yuan in 2017, ending a two-year decline, according to the General Administration of Customs.
And the National Bureau of Statistics said China's trade with countries along the B&R routes rose to a value of about 7.4 trillion yuan last year.
Power in numbers
As most companies in Guzhen are small and micro-sized businesses, they are attempting a strategy of engaging as a collective group in order to go global.
"We used to join foreign exhibitions in groups of two or three, but it's time-consuming and inefficient, like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Chen.
Now, companies in the town work together as an alliance, renting venues, inviting target audiences and key stakeholders, and holding exhibitions in foreign countries, Chen added.
"It saves time and effort," Chen noted.
China has the largest lighting industry and the most complete industrial chain, said Wang Yongfu, CEO of an alliance of 11 companies.
"We formed this alliance to sell our designs globally instead of just our products, therefore changing our roles as traditional equipment manufacturers," Wang said.