New food options could help put the sparkle on Qianhai

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10:27pm

Qianhai, the economic zone next to Shenzhen, may have already attracted several large financial institutions, but it needs to do more to attract small and medium sized enterprises, including local tea house operators.

Hong Kong’s success as an international financial centre can be traced to its ability to attract international companies while at the same time retaining its appeal among small and medium sized enterprises.

Qianhai, which is an hour by car from Hong Kong, has attracted big banks such as HSBC, Hang Seng Bank and Credit Suisse.

Those who have visited the special economic zone next to Shenzhen will note that it does not offer many food options apart from coffee chains such as Starbucks and Pacific Coffee. Many of these coffee shops were crowded during my recent visit, reflecting the rising demand for sandwich shops and other dining options.

Why not a wonton noodles or Hong Kong style milk tea, and egg tarts? The simple answer is there are few such small restaurants. This is very different from Hong Kong which has a wide range of restaurants from the upscale Pierre or Fook Lam Moon to more affordable options.

But apart from the dearth of restaurant choices, why have Hong Kong’s SMEs failed to show up at Qianhai?

Hong Kong’s smaller businesses and professionals struggle to gain foothold in Qianhai district

Many Hong Kong SMEs fear they cannot meet the necessary capital requirements to establish a presence in Qianhai. But some of these companies are under the mistaken impression that they must be able to match a HK$5 million capital requirement, even though this rule was scrapped in 2014 in a bid to make it easier to set up.

Witman Hung, chief liaison officer for Hong Kong for the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority, acknowledged that the original capital requirement was removed nearly two years ago, as he provided updated figures at a press conference last week showing that 53,088 companies were newly registered at the economic zone.

He said smaller companies should check what rules apply to their particular industry.

Still, prospective companies will find the lack of transport logistics a major issue that may factor into their decision on whether to take up the expense and effort to establish a presence in the new trade zone. Qianhai is only an hour’s journey by car from Hong Kong, but it lacks regular service by public transport, including either rail or bus.

If Qianhai really wants closer economic ties with Hong Kong, it should not only target large companies such as HSBC, but also consider what it takes to be more appealing to smaller companies.

A little more attention on attracting new food and beverage providers would be welcome.

Then the special economic zone can really take off.