SUZHOU's image as a tourist resort rejoicing in beautiful names such as ''Venice of the East'' and ''City of Gardens'' gives little insight into the city's economic take-off. Its gross industrial output value has ranked fourth among the large and medium-sized cities in China for seven successive years, behind only Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. Its gross domestic product (GDP) ranks fifth in the country, behind Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Tianjin. Multinationals including Philips and Toyota have established operations there. ''We hope that Suzhou will become an internationally known city which is economically prosperous and socially stable,'' said Mayor Zhang Xinsheng. The municipal government has hired Coopers and Lybrand of Britain to advise it on how to attract foreign investment. The 2,500-year-old city, which includes six counties and county-level cities, four districts, and 164 towns and villages under its administration, is a coastal economic open zone in Jiangsu province. Located at the intersection of China's two main economic development belts - the coastal and the Yangtze River areas - Suzhou is 80 kilometres west of Shanghai, which spearheads the economic growth of the Yangtze Delta. It is taking advantage of its nearness to Pudong, a key development zone in Shanghai. Foreign investors, however, may be frustrated by the lack of a civil airport in the city. It is linked by rail, expressways and waterways to major ports and Shanghai's international airport - as well as other cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Nanjing. Since 1990, more than 20 per cent of the city's industrial output has been for export. There are 17,000 enterprises in Suzhou, or which between 40 and 50 per cent have co-operation with foreign partners. Foreign investment injected into Suzhou accounts for 52 per cent of the total for Jiangsu province, although it is not the provincial capital. Built in 514 BC, Suzhou is the only Chinese city which has kept its layout in the double-chessboard pattern of the Song Dynasty, with small houses along little bridges and canals, and waterways parallel to streets. Average investment return in the city is about 28 per cent a year, according to Mr Zhang. Industry is the pillar of the economy in Suzhou, which has an established base in light industries - especially in silk, textiles, electronics, machinery and chemicals. Most of its industrial organisations are owned by governments of different levels. In the past 15 years, its GDP posted an annual growth of 20.1 per cent, while industrial output saw annual growth of 22.2 per cent, figures Mr Zhang said were among the the highest in China. Suzhou's GDP accounts for 1.6 per cent of the country's total, its exports for five per cent and its injected foreign investment for six per cent - although its population accounts for 0.5 per cent of the country and its area for 0.1 per cent. Suzhou residents are said to have close to the highest purchasing power among the coastal cities of China, with an average pay per working citizen last year of 4,256 yuan (about HK$3,787). Dubbed ''a land of rice and fish'', the city's agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery industries are well developed.