On November 6, 2010, during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to France, around 30 Chinese companies visited Châteauroux (Centre region) and its cargo airport which boasts a 3,500 meter runway.
The trip was part of plans to create a new 850-hectare business park by 2017. This Franco-Chinese project will in time generate investments of around €500 million and jobs for 4,000 people.
The Châteauroux Sino-French Economic Development Company (SFDEC) has already secured €100 million to attract Asian companies to the region and is hoping to see a return on its investment in less than 10 years. “Asian companies are looking for footholds in the European market, our project also looked at Rotterdam and Berlin,” explains Peng'en Chao, who owns 60% of the SFDEC. “Investing in the center of France opens up possibilities for these companies towards southern Europe and Africa.”
This private joint venture, controlled by the Chinese businessman who holds other interests in energy and real estate, is directed by a French associate, Jacques Gautherie, a former manager for French construction multinationals in China. “We have raised funds with the China Development Bank, the French equivalent of OSEO, and the China Light Industry Federation has participated in our round table”, explains Jacques Gautherie.
Groundbreaking will begin in late 2011, to be followed by five years of construction work. Aided by architectural firm Arval, the SFDEC will act as the project owner of a new business park that will supplant a military base due for closure in mid-2012. The local authorities in the region are committed to redeveloping around 100 hectares of land to high-quality environmental standards. “Three or four companies will start moving in ahead of the others next year, including a leading Chinese tea producer. They will set up in the parts of the business park which have already been redeveloped by the local authorities,” commented a source familiar with the case.
In addition to its runway capable of receiving large cargo planes and its relatively clear skies, the other advantage of the former NATO base is that it is located within an urban enterprise zone (zone franche). “The investments will receive tax exemptions”, confirmed Peng'en Shao. The SFDEC, the Webca (a business federation bringing together China’s 500 richest companies) and the French authorities have identified three types of companies to be targeted: IT firms, logistics platforms and renewable energy manufacturers. Setup criteria will include the need for investors to employ 80% of their personnel from the local area.