PRIME BOOMTOWN IN SOUTHERN CENTRAL CHINA
Just a few years ago, Changsha in central China started to become one of the country’s great boomtowns.Construction everywhere, progress everywhere, resulting in the creation of an impressive regional hub that offers nearly everything a modern metropolis should provide. The capital of Hunan has since turned into a thriving economic center that is well interconnected with other vibrant core regions – not only by high-speed railway. It is a city that shows off with breathtaking architectural ventures and a stunning high-fly in entertainment. Tourism is booming, construction is booming, trade is booming, financial services are booming. In short: It is a good place to consider making an investment.
Changsha is where Mao Zedong converted to communism long before the communist party assumed power under his lead. It is a city well-known for its fierce resistance against the Japanese invasion in World War II, hence critically weakening the adversary’s military advance. During Mao’s regency, heavy industry has been built up in-land, also in this region. And Changsha is a provincial capital with a long history of urban settlement and culture. In the People’s Republic’s current setting, all this makes for a strong fundament, meriting crucial political support for future economic development. But, let’s have a more detailed look.
Changsha, a city of 3.5 million citizens, experienced stunning economic growth of about 12 to 15 per cent during the last few years (which is high even by Chinese standards) and has developed into one of the main transportation hubs in southern China. Preparatory work has been carried out all along the way. As in so many other cities in China, Changsha is ambitiously investing into its infrastructure. But here it is worth noting that this city was one of the very first to accept a huge stimulus package offered by the State Council in 2012, further strengthening its already strong regional importance and keeping the development at high speed.
Changsha’s international airport is serving several East Asian and also some Western cities (London, Paris, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Sydney and Vancouver). The capital of Hunan province is already well interconnected with other major cities in China by railway, and more high-speed trains will be coming soon, making Changsha accessible from all directions. South station (where the high-speed trains depart) and the airport will be linked by a maglev train. One metro line is already in operation, and five more lines will be added. Situated on the Xiang river, which is a tributary of the Yangtze, Changsha also has an inland port that already started contracting with the world’s leading port in Shanghai.
The city government’s development vision is to become a „modern city in central China and an international city with a unique culture“. This means that the economy has to be modernized in terms of high-tech orientation and supplemented by culture-based synergies while transportation and logistics need to be improved in terms of interconnectivity. Therefore, interregional cooperation in Hunan province as well as with its big urban neighbours Wuhan and Nanchang will become deeper, bolstering up the competitive ranking of south central China.
Changsha is especially strong in manufacturing (construction machinery, automobiles and parts), and it is ambitiously engaging in several high-tech industries such as biotechnology and new materials. Due to the strong rise of consumer markets in central China, Changsha aims to be an important financial center and a top logistics hub in the region. The city’s close economic interdependency with nearby Zhuzhou and Xiangtan is playing a crucial role. Together, this area comprises 13,5 million people, and it is here where Hunan’s economy is really centered. Clusters have been built especially within and between the four industrial development zones at national-level and the eight industrial parks at provincial-level (all of them being within 40 kilometers of Changsha’s port and airport). The strong agricultural base of the province around the city is also worth mentioning.
Urban centers in Hunan are growing into big agglomerations. Many people are returning from other, more developed cities to take part in their own province’s recent boom. Manufacturing and labour costs here are still about 10 % lower than in the coastal areas. Talking about the qualification of the workforce, Changsha is a center of academic education and scientific research, making it quite easy to find qualified staff. Attracting well-educated people from across the country also doesn’t seem to be hard as Changsha’s fame is increasing due to Hunan’s ranking in tourism and the fact that China’s most successful provincial TV station is located here. Via the improved transportation network more people come by and get off to encounter a city that is in the process of transformation into high-edge modernity.
Hundreds of high-rise buildings have been built, and Changsha seems to have a knack for big things while it is catching up. Just to name two examples: The world’s biggest Chinese restaurant, Xihulou, with 4.000 seats has sprung up here. And in 2012, a huge story hit the media when a Changsha-based company with a 130-foot high pyramid on its site planned to build a skyscraper of 838 metres, that is higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Officials, however, did not permit this due to safety concerns. It is unclear whether „Sky City“ will ever be built, but from that time on Changsha has been on international radar, it seems. The next big thing is the Meixihu International Culture and Art Centre. Zaha Hadid Architects have planned their futuristic buildings which will be accompanied by glittering skyscrapers. Changsha wants to be on the forefront, and so it is striving to become the urban link between coast and inland.
This all sounds great. But what does it actually mean? Let us compare Changsha with Wuhan, the number one metropolis in central China that we also chose a most interesting place for investments. Wuhan has a significantly greater population, it has developed well for many decades, its scientific institutions are especially recognized, and its geographic position is unbeatable: Quite close to Shanghai, directly situated on the Yangtze, halfway between Sichuan and the river’s delta, and the main railways from Beijing to Guangdong crossing it. Isn’t that a much more favorable place to be?
But how can Changsha in any way directly compete with such a powerful urban agglomeration as Wuhan? Well, the thing is, it does not have to. In its own region, southern central China, Changsha already is the number one, and it is rapidly strengthening its status. Wuhan may have a generally favorable position, but it actually is not at the forefront of developmental speed in the Yangtze region. But, most importantly, Changsha has caught up at truly high speed in recent years.
Even when it comes to geographical position, Changsha is in no less favor. The north-south railway crosses the city as well, and essential high-speed links between main cities of interior and coast are being established. The trains from Shanghai to Kunming and from Chongqing to Xiamen will cross Changsha. Next, Hunan province lies directly between one of China’s three most developed core regions, Guangdong, and the heart of central China. When China under Deng Xiaoping undertook its opening-up, huge sums of money first crossed the border of Hongkong to reach Guangdong. Subsequently, foreign direct investment decided to climb up the coast towards north. Now flowing more and more inland, the FDI situation is not that simple anymore, but seen from a Hong Kong point of view, Changsha may be advantageous as it will be soon reachable by train from Kowloon within only three hours.
Taking all this into consideration, Changsha definitely is one of the hottest spots to invest in China. In its own region, southern central China, we have only chosen this one metropolis, because of its fundamentally strong base for growth and its convincing competitive advantage over other cities there. Changsha is in the process of economic growth and transformation in a fast and sustainable manner. The capital of Hunan is vitally interconnected with other core regions of China and it represents a major urban link between the bright coastal cities and the yet-to-develop interior of China. We consider Changsha ripe with opportunities to invest.
© China Under Construction, 2016
Links of interest
Competitive Cities: Changsha, China – Coordination, Competition, Construction and Cars (The World Bank)
Changsha Makes Economic Breakthroughs in 2017 (China.org)
Premier Li calls for Faster Economic Upgrade (Xinhua)
Changsha Economy (People’s Daily)