Metro Vancouver suburbs targeted for trade by developing Asian economies

Indonesian officials co-host business events this month in Richmond, Surrey, as communities outside Vancouver flex growing business muscle

Sri Wiludjeng, consul general of Indonesia in Vancouver, speaks at Indonesia’s investment “road show” forum in Richmond on September 7, at the city’s Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport | Chuck Chiang

Metro Vancouver’s suburbs are becoming increasingly attractive for burgeoning Asian economies seeking new business links with the Lower Mainland, with one country holding two major engagements this month in Richmond and Surrey.

Officials from Indonesia – who are co-hosting “road show” forums with local business chambers in the two Lower Mainland cities in September – said the events come as a reflection of the reaction Indonesian representatives received in previous outreaches in Richmond and Surrey.

Sri Wiludjeng, consul general of Indonesia in Vancouver, said her office has held a number of promotional events in the last three years, but the majority had been held in Vancouver proper. However, she added, the opportunities that started presenting themselves in other Lower Mainland cities became hard to ignore.

“We have actively developed business relations with various counterparts in Richmond and Surrey in recent years, and we found that they have shown strong interest to explore co-operation and expand businesses to Indonesia,” Wiludjeng said.

“In this regards, we value these ‘road show’ events, in order to showcase the business opportunities in Indonesia comprehensively.”

The Richmond event, held on September 7, drew a sizable business crowd to the Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport hotel. The Surrey event is slated for September 27 at the Guildford Golf & Country Club.

In each city’s case, officials said there have been increased interactions between their local business community and high-growth Asia-Pacific economies.

Both the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Surrey Board of Trade noted the local population’s familiarity with Asia as a key draw for a lesser-known market like Indonesia, as forum attendees tend to come into the meetings with a level of built-in understanding for doing business across the Pacific.

“With 60-plus per cent of Richmond residents identifying as of Asian ethnicity, this is a market that doesn’t need a lot of education to be familiar or comfortable with Asian-origin projects,” said Richmond chamber president and CEO Matt Pitcairn.

“With YVR [Vancouver International Airport] and the Port of Vancouver in our backyard, geographically, businesses here are poised to really capitalize on international market offerings.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman also noted that each city tends to have unique attributes within Metro Vancouver’s business ecosystems that may fit different Asian economies better.

For Surrey, Huberman pointed to the city’s young population, the availability of industrial land and ample room for growth as key points for drawing overseas business opportunities and interests.

Huberman added that Indonesia isn’t the only market to have engaged Surrey in business talks. The city’s board of trade has had an international trade centre operating since 2010-2011, and many of the relationships formed through that initiative are now maturing into a continued stream of activities (including past trade-mission visits to Dubai and China, as well as one planned for next year in Australia).

The heaviest engagement, however, remains with India, with Surrey Board of Trade’s Innovation Awards (scheduled for September 28) focused on the Indian health-technology industry. The city will also host 100 Indian physicians next June to network with local medical practitioners – the third such meeting for Surrey.

Richmond has also had multiple international engagements with markets such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Pitcairn said the city will continue to work with Indonesian officials from the consulate – who are “active members” of the chamber – for future events.

“Indonesia exported over US$140 billion in 2016; this is a huge market,” he said.

“Small and medium-sized businesses, particularly in textiles, furnishings, seafood, manufacturing and tourism, may be surprised by just how accessible doing business with Indonesia really is.”

Indonesian officials said they are actively planning additional “road show” forums in other B.C. locations, but no official list has been announced.