SOMA returns from business mission to China, Japan

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The Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance (SOMA) recently returned from a successful trade mission to China and Japan.

The purpose of the mission was to promote the SOMA region as a competitive manufacturing and investment location and to strengthen trade relationships .

The trade mission began mid-November in Shanghai, China and included meetings with the Canadian Consulate, Export Development Canada (China Office) and Global Affairs Canada. Following that, the delegation joined the Ontario Premier’s mission to celebrate $800-plus million in trade deals signed between Canadian and Chinese companies.

The delegation of economic development directors and regional mayors then travelled to Japan - the leading source of Foreign Direct Investment in the SOMA Region - for meetings with the Embassy, Canadian consulate, as well as one-on-one meetings with potential investors in the SOMA region.

“I am proud to have been the delegate lead as we mark the beginning of a promising new relationship with the China Nanjing Federation of Industry & Commerce," said Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar. "We can learn from each other in building stronger economic regions and adopting best practices to become more globally competitive.”

“This mission enables us to promote Southwestern Ontario as an exceptional investment destination that will help increase jobs in the automotive, advanced manufacturing and the agri-business sectors,” said Len Magyar, president of the Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance in a media release.

“We are building on our partnership and expanding opportunities for our regional businesses to compete on a global scale,” he added.

The SOMA Region, which includes Tillsonburg, Ingersoll, Perth, Stratford, St. Thomas, and Woodstock, is well-positioned to attract foreign investment. In a 2015 study by FDI Monitor, it was shown the region has already attracted valuable Japanese investment with a total of $2.05 billion in investment and the creation of 2,485 jobs, which made the region the top investment destination for Japanese companies during that period.

Some of the outcomes of the trade mission include:

* Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance and the China Nanjing Federation of Industry & Commerce.

* Meetings with 13 companies that already have a presence in Canada’s Industrial Heartland.

* Hosting of events with 43 additional companies.

* Seven one-on-one meetings with companies that have expressed an interest in investing in the region.

"It was 17 pretty intense days," said Molnar, who at various times on the trip was actually wearing three separate 'hats', representing SOMA, SCOR (South Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation), and the Town of Tillsonburg (as guest of the hospital and mayor in Hengshui, Tillsonburg's sister city).

"I would say the opportunity to regenerate that (bond with Hengshui) is extremely exciting right now. Beyond just the social and cultural aspect... there will be continued economic development and discussions - Cephas Panschow (Tillsonburg's Development Commissioner) was on this trip - that would be advantageous to both parties."

The value of investing in alliances like SOMA, said Molnar, is that Tillsonburg independently could not travel to Europe or Asia on an annual or bi-annual basis.

"When you pool the resources, then one or two EDOs (Economic Development Officers) may head to a food and beverage show in Vegas, or parts manufacturing show in Germany, or automobile-related opportunity in Japan. They identify the leads, all those leads get pooled, then everyone gets an opportunity to follow up on them. So if Cephas goes to Germany with SOMA-sponsored resources, when he gets back he does a full comprehensive report and then St. Thomas, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Stratford all get the value of what he brings home. Then it's up to those communities independently to see if they can attract someone to their own municipality."

Molnar said the individual feedback from various meetings and networking with local investment partners was very positive.

"Without identifying individual companies, we also have the opportunity to visit - solely - to attract new investment into the community. We headed off to the different regions of Japan on a couple occasions visiting someone that Cephas had identified as a potential for Tillsonburg coming out of a previous trip. In one particular case they'll be visiting the area in the new year.

"That value came from the 'big pocket,' consolidated approach to working together, and narrowing it down and finding potential local opportunities."



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