A month or so ago I was in China with some of Doncaster’s key public sector, business and education leaders visiting the Chinese city of Dalian.
Dalian boasts a population of around 6.8 million people and is home to one of the biggest shipping ports in the world.
The city is only 100 years old, but is a great showcase for what can be achieved through investment in major infrastructure.
Dalian features an impressive mix of high tech, engineering, manufacturing and creative and digital industry firms along with a compelling logistics and tourism offer.
In short, the city has lots of similarities and potential synergies with the Sheffield City Region; it’s just a lot bigger!
The purpose of the visit was to meet with officials in Dalian and to learn more about the economic opportunities there. This would be with a view, in the short to mid term, to develop trade missions between China and Doncaster and – ultimately – to create strong commercial links between enterprises in Dalian and here.
Developing such a relationship might also trigger Chinese investment into Doncaster; something our economy is ripe for.
The timing of this is absolutely opportune as, in a post-EU Referendum world, I feel as though it has never been more important for the UK and our region to be resolutely outward looking.
Doncaster has a terrific story to tell and I am confident we will play a huge role in the Sheffield City Region and Northern Powerhouse. However, to fully maximise our economic potential we must think and act globally not just regionally and nationally.
Doncaster has a long and fruitful history with Dalian. Indeed, for many years two-way exchanges have been taking place between schools in Doncaster and Dalian.
During the trip I witnessed first hand just how impressive some of Doncaster’s teachers and senior leaders are and how committed they are to developing the craft of teaching and learning.
Everything in China is built on relationships, trust and rapport.
The great work that education colleagues have put into Dalian enabled myself – and senior representatives joining me on the visit – to, in effect, fast track our own relationships and engage quickly with senior decision-makers.
We therefore hope to get on with the important business of opening up a direct dialogue between firms here and enterprises there. The next steps in this relationship are to sign a friendship agreement between Doncaster Chamber and the Dalian Chamber, to invite Chinese businesses to visit Doncaster and to schedule a return visit to China in 2017.