Go to Shenzhen

Go to Shenzhen

A few weeks ago, I was driven through the streets of Shenzhen, a bustling city of more than 11 million. We passed along six-lane boulevards, all lined with trees and flowers, and not just a few blocks to show off, but mile after mile of them. The local drivers may be the craziest in the world, making the lines delineating those six lanes a waste of good paint. Around us, the skyscrapers abound, as do high-fashion stores, malls and countless restaurants.

Maersk's John Clancey was right in the late 1980s and 1990s when his speeches were always laden with remarks that "the MTV generation, once they get TV and see it, they will want it." Shenzhen is a city of young people; the average age is 26 1/2, and they are well-educated and dressed right out of MTV.

If you close your eyes as you move down one of the numerous parkways, you'd be hard-pressed to make a distinction between where you are and Atlanta, Dallas or any number of other more modern American cities. Shenzhen is an eclectic city that is as vibrant as the Chinese economy. One wonders, if so many companies are moving here because of the low cost of personnel, how do they afford the high-fashion stores, the high-rise malls? And then someone reminds you that there are 1.3 billion people in China, and 0.1 percent (one-tenth of 1 percent) of them are millionaires, in U.S. terms.

Beyond Shenzhen's skyscrapers, malls and fashionably dressed young people, there is business - lots of business. I recall seeing Shenzhen for the first time in 1993 while on a business trip. I saw the port facilities, such as they were. When I returned in 2003, I was amazed at the changes. Yantian was partially finished; I recall five berths being open. When I looked away from the berths, I saw a fairly large mountain in the near distance. Two weeks ago, I saw the port with 10 berths, with the new ones able to handle ships of 10,000 TEUs and up. That mountain behind me is virtually gone - they moved it to extend the berthing facilities out into the water.

Shenzhen was a small fishing village in 1984. The Chinese government wanted to create something to rival Hong Kong, right across the water. Part of the small fishing village is still there in the form of a row of restaurants specializing in seafood. Somewhat typical in Asia, you can literally pick out the fish, lobster, eels and shrimp that you want to eat from the saltwater tanks, and the food is prepared the way you want it, or in their own specialized Chinese way; you can't go wrong, either way. The rest of that small fishing village is now the Yantian terminals and logistics park, and from there grew this modern city of 11 million.

While Yantian has had great growth and that growth will continue, some are worried about the newer ports being built or expanded in Chiwan, Shekou and Nanshan to help cover more of southern China's booming economy. And there are rumors about possible new facilities in the Castle Peak area.

The more you talk to the businesspeople, the more you get the picture of an area that is virtually exploding with business and opportunities. The government has opened the doors to outside investment, and it has poured into every segment of the economy. At the current rate of growth, an equivalent of the Port of New York and New Jersey will have to be built every year just to keep up.

Some who read my articles occasionally might be asking, "Why is he writing a Chamber of Commerce piece in The Journal of Commerce?" The connection is the TPM Asia conference that the JoC will hold in Shenzhen next month. But this isn't an article to pump up the TPM - that's just only another reason for a trip to Shenzhen. I'm saying that everyone in this business needs to visit Shenzhen to see what a "state" can do in turning a country around in very little time, by strategizing and executing plans.

Those with a real interest in the international transportation arena should go to Yantian and see a port that really works, and meet people who are very proud of what they have accomplished and what they are doing.

Americans could use the trip to see what they should be doing to increase efficiencies in this time of rapidly increasing international trade, instead of trying to protect turf and virtually stifle growth and creativity.