Some of China’s biggest technology companies are flocking to Bellevue, lured by a promising public-private partnership and an unexpected recruiter: Microsoft.
Huawei, China’s telecommunications giant, is among the Chinese firms that have opened Bellevue offices within the past 18 months.
Three other recent arrivals…Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent…are respectively known as the Google, Amazon and Facebook of China. They’re so dominant in China’s technology that they are respectively known as ‘BAT,’. similar to our acronym “Fang” for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.
If the Puget sound region can effectively manage intellectual risks, the influx of China’s largest technology companies could bolster the area with new ideas, investment and talent. It could also help strengthen the region’s connection to the fastest growing economy in the world.
The opening of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) in Bellevue, coincides with the opening of these new tech giants offices. The technology graduate program is a partnership between the University of Washington and China’s preeminent school, Tsinghua University
Microsoft invested $40 million in the program and helped attract Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba, Microsoft President Brad Smith said. He personally met with executives from the companies.
GIX, which opened in September, has 42 graduate students and has aggressive growth plans. GIX Co-Executive Director Vikram Jandhyla said, “We’re going to double every year from this point on. We will be seeing numbers in the thousands over the next 10 years and these will be great hires for our tech companies here and also certainly Chinese companies.”
This region has many companies, including Microsoft, that are working on artificial intelligence and that’s hard to come by expertise that Chinese companies want.
Duncan Clark, an expert on Chinese entrepreneurship who wrote definitely about Alibaba and founder Jack Ma, said recruiting employees from Puget Sound area companies is a main driver behind the Chinese companies new offices. Working for Tencent in Seattle versus Shenzen is attractive,” he said.”
The new Bellevue offices make it easier for employees in China to move to the U.S., something many are seeking to do. The Seattle area is Chinese buyers second-most preferred global location for immigration and property investment, according to China’s largest website for North American real estate, Juwai.com. Chinese millionaires selected Seattle as the No. 2 place in the world they’d most like to live in a survey by Shanghei based Hurun Research.
The region’s environmental education and talent are all attractive to Chinese investors and companies, Washington State China Relations Council President Mercy Kuo said.
“Baidu, Huawei and Tencent are offering a standard of living,” she said. “The Seattle area has all the amenities of top tier cities, a beautiful environment, less traffic comparatively, top quality education for their children and a talent pool to draw from.”
Bellevue appears to be more popular than Seattle, Kuo said, because it offers Chinese employees higher end real estate and shopping.
Hainen Airlines, the largest privately owned airline in China, opened a Seattle office 10 years ago. Based in Seattle, Hainan U.S. Executive Director Joel Chusid leads the office and operations across the rest of the country.
“Seattle was not one of our premier destination cities back then,” he said, “but it certainly is one of our top destinations now.”
Hainen employs around 15 people at its Seattle office and has daily flights between Seattle and Beijing and flights fours days a week between Seattle and Shangai.
The increase, Chusid said, is due to changes in the U.S. visa program, Washington’s relationship as a major trading partner with China and the development of technology companies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 visit to Seattle was a catalyst. A series of business deals connecting the U.S. and China were announced at the time, including Boeing’s 300 aircraft deal with China and the Industrial Commercial Bank of China’s first U.S. branch in Seattle.
During Xi’s visit, Microsoft welcomed Apple, Amazon, and other big rivals to Redmond for the meeting. The move paid off. Microsoft has since partnered with Chinese companies, including an autonomous vehicle deal with Baidu and a cloud partnership with Huawei.
These new Bellevue offices from China’s largest technology companies are likely to promote further collaboration between U.S. and China-based companies, which could further strengthen the Puget Sound regions economy.
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