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Chinese delegation visits local bio-tech and clean-energy firms

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 2011 - Area business and political leaders were busy Friday hosting and meeting with a 20-member business delegation from China, who stopped in St. Louis -- and will spend Saturday in Chicago -- before attending an international biotechnology convention in Washington.

According to the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, the delegation was made up of representatives of "biotech and clean-energy related businesses." Those meeting with the group this morning included U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, RCGA president Richard Fleming and Mike Jones, Midwest China Hub Commission chairman.

But Jones said in an interview that one topic was not discussed: the aggressive regional effort to persuade China to locate a freight hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The effort also is known as "the Big Idea."

"This was purely a business marketing trip, from their standpoint and from ours,'' Jones said. "But it is an aspect of what we've been trying to achieve -- a totally integrated relationship" that would include business and trade connections, as well as that sought-after hub.

The delegation was from the China Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA), which is part of the China Ministry of Commerce. According to the RCGA, "the delegation is led by Yu Hua, deputy director general of CIPA. Director General Yu led a 30-member plant and life sciences delegation to St. Louis last May."

While in town Friday, the delegation stopped at Monsanto Co. and at the Danforth Plant Science Center. Other stops included "the recently announced Gallus BioPharma, the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at Washington University, HOK and the Consortium for Clean Coal Technology at Washington University," the RCGA said.

During their meeting with local officials in Clayton, the RCGA said that Blunt and Slay "stressed the unique capabilities of the region including our life science assets, unparalleled research institutions and central location in the geographic center of the country."

The RCGA added, "Beyond the cargo hub, the mission of the trip is to strengthen the business-to-business economic ties with Chinese business leaders and government leaders to create a commercial hub as well which will provide a market for Midwestern goods in China and vice versa. Representatives from several Chinese biotech and clean energy firms along with representatives of various high-tech zones and business parks comprise the delegation."

The release continued: "The mission is to reinforce to the delegation that St. Louis is a 'laboratory' from which they can work independently to take advantage of the world-class science and research that occurs here, or collaboratively and in concert with a well-developed infrastructure designed to nurture and launch new technologies with global applications."

The Chinese delegation, in turn, "is most interested in identifying U.S. companies that could partner with Chinese researchers,'' the release added. "CIPA has called out several specific companies with whom they are meeting within the life sciences and clean energy industries that are active in China or have an interest in pursuing cooperative partnerships with Chinese companies."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.