San Francisco Business Time, How ChinaSF brings businesses to the Bay Area from China

San Francisco Business Times, How ChinaSF brings businesses to the Bay Area from China

By: Shane Downing, March 15, 2018

In 2005, Darlene Chiu Bryant joined then Mayor Gavin Newsom on his first trip to China. 

“We got back, and he said he was going to set aside $2.1 million to setup ChinaSF,” remembered Bryant, Newsom’s former chief deputy communications director. “I said ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’” 

But Newsom kept his word and launched ChinaSF in 2008, and in 2012, Bryant took over as executive director.  

ChinaSF is a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with the San Francisco Center for Economic Development, also a nonprofit, to promote economic growth in both San Francisco and China. ChinaSF works to recruit Chinese companies to San Francisco while simultaneously supporting San Francisco-based companies looking to expand into Chinese markets. 

Since its inception, ChinaSF has helped 96 Chinese companies — such as restaurant Crystal Jade, smart-helmet manufacturer LIVALL and biotech company Vcanbio — start or expand offices mostly in San Francisco. In doing so, it has created 788 jobs and generated more than $5.1 billion of economic impact in the Bay Area.

 In 2017, ChinaSF recruited 14 companies to the Bay Area and is working to land three more Chinese businesses in San Francisco in the next few weeks. 

For companies looking to go global, San Francisco isn’t a difficult destination to sell: The city has more than 75 consulates, trade commissions and investment organizations. Doing business in San Francisco, though, requires knowledge and skills that overseas companies may not have. 

That’s where ChinaSF comes in. By linking incoming Chinese companies to the most relevant San Francisco-based service providers — such as attorneys, accountants, real estate brokerages, PR firms and city agencies — at no cost, it makes the transition to the Bay Area easier.  

“These companies need an objective partner to be their first point of contact when coming into San Francisco,” said Todd Rufo, the director of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “We want to be that trusted partner. We want to help these companies rapidly localize.”

ChinaSF connects with prospective businesses via networking events.Between its offices in San Francisco, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, the organization hosted or co-hosted about 60 such events in 2017. That blend of word-of-mouth referrals and face-to-face events resulted in 404 new business leads.

ChinaSF’s team of Chinese-Americans who speak fluent English, Mandarin and Cantonese is a big asset for prospective Chinese companies looking to expand here.

“Chinese companies feel a lot more comfortable when they know they’re talking to someone who represents the government and speaks their language,” Bryant said. “It especially gives them more comfort knowing that they’re talking to an American who knows what business is like in San Francisco.”

The majority of Chinese businesses that ChinaSF works with are real estate companies, followed by tech, finance and biotech. Bryant said it can take anywhere from six months to a couple of years for these companies to launch in the city.