Perhaps Jiangmen's most valuable products have been the people it has sent overseas With Jiangmen's tourism potential increasingly well established, businessmen in the area are drawing up ever-bigger plans for the future. And nothing could possibly make that future look brighter than the proposed bridge linking Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau. Just ask Charles Chan, group chairman of Continental Holdings, a major manufacturer of jewellery. 'It would bring Jiangmen closer to Hong Kong than Dongguan,' Mr Chan enthuses. 'When the bridge is completed, it will be fantastic for both business and tourism. The trip from Hong Kong to Jiangmen would take you one and a quarter hours, which would make life much easier for everyone because you could do it by car.' Another factor enhancing the region's prospects is the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or Cepa, which went into effect January 1. 'It won't offer just a short term gain,' Mr Chan predicts. 'I think it will especially benefit the western side of the Pearl River Delta. For the medium to long term, this part of Guangdong has a lot of potential. They have learned from the mistakes of Canton [Guangzhou] so they can avoid the bad and emulate the good.' Mr Chan is typical of the kind of entrepreneurs who have made Jiangmen famous in the overseas Chinese community. Born on Chaolian island, which was a farming community at the time, his father sent him to Hong Kong at the age of 12 to learn a trade. He found a job as an apprentice goldsmith, earning HK$10 a month plus food and a place to sleep. He served as an apprentice for five years and then starting working. 'After a few years I had saved a few thousand dollars and started my own venture,' he says. 'I got a small workshop and started making jewellery for retail shops.' Following several false starts, Mr Chan decided it was time to go abroad and eepen his understanding of the jewellery trade. 'I went to the United States in the late 60s,' he says. 'I thought that we weren't doing something right and they had something different to offer.' He worked for two companies, one in Florida, where he learned sampling line processing, and another in New York, which manufactured very high-end jewellery and timepieces. Returning to Hong Kong two years later, Mr Chan spent four years working for others before saving enough money to set up his own factory. Starting small, he changed the company's name to Continental in 1975. With an initial workforce of 30, employment expanded to 300 within just one year. 'I did away with the apprentice system and employed trainees instead,' he says. 'I also departmentalized operations.' With two retail shops in Hong Kong and offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South Africa, Mr Chan's decision to set up factories in his hometown is not surprising. While there are practical considerations, such as Cepa, the proposed bridge, a good environment, and plentiful land, there are also such intangibles as civic pride and a desire to leave his mark. The wandering sons of Jiangmen - allegedly about 10 per cent of the worldwide Chinese Diaspora are said to have their roots in the city and its environs - are famous for their close ties to the region. They have contributed generously to the region through the building of bridges, schools, and hospitals. In recent years a growing number are investing there, as well. Many also return to retire after successful careers in Hong Kong, Macau, and abroad. 'Home is home,' Mr Chan says, growing somewhat emotional for the first time during our interview. 'You can't change where you're born, where you come from - not even for generations. Your parents - you don't choose them. Money is important, but your home is more important.' Looking to the future, Mr Chan is full of optimism for his hometown. He believes that in addition to industry it has considerable potential for tourism though he has no concrete plans to enter the sector until the time is ripe. 'The lifestyle and the scenery is suitable for tourism,' he believes. 'It will prove an ideal place for people to live as well. There are mountains and rivers, lots of land and clean air, less pollution - these are all factors.' Mr Chan acquired 1,000 acres of land on Chaolian 10 years ago and he plans to build 'a high class house' there. And when asked where he plans to retire, he just laughs. 'I have never even thought about retirement,' he says. 'I haven't had time.'