Lost in the hubbub over Mayor Gavin Newsom’s staffing changes is the creation of a new “China Desk” to identify Chinese companies seeking North American locations, entice them to The City and smooth their transition.
Those familiar with Newsom’s vision for the positions say the success of the program depends on the focus of the mission and its “long-term commitment” to trade with China.
Newsom unveiled the China Desk proposal in his inaugural speech, saying it would be devoted to economic outreach to Chinese companies in an effort to bring them here, to a city whose population is 35 percent Chinese, according to the Mayor’s Office.
Initially there will be two offices — one in Shanghai and one in San Francisco — up and running by this summer, said Michael Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The Shanghai office would focus on marketing The City and identifying companies looking to expand into North America, Cohen said.
The San Francisco office would ease that transition by helping companies find space and obtain permits, all to take advantage of China’s growing economy and its connection with The City and its Chinese community, Cohen said.
City officials are in the process of determining who will staff the two offices and what their budget will be, Cohen said.
Recently, the mayor has come under fire for using San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency funds to pay staffers, some unassociated with transit issues.
City officials are in talks with organizations such as the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau to determine whether the China Desk would actually be employed by The City or if it would even work out of City Hall, Cohen said.
Bruce Pickering, executive director of the Northern California sector of the Asia Society, a global organization dedicated to improving relationships between Asia and the U.S., said offices such as the proposed China Desk do not work unless there is a defined mission, such as focus on the technology sector.
“If you just open an office and put a person in the office, it’s really hard” to make the job viable, said Pickering, who otherwise supported the idea.
Rose Pak, head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in The City, encouraged the expansion of the “desk” idea to become a “China Office.”
“It has to be a long-term commitment, and The City has to put up some dollars,” Pak said. “It cannot be an afterthought.”