Chinese business people from across the Carolinas will gather in Charlotte Saturday evening to celebrate the rapid growth of the Carolinas Chinese Chamber of Commerce and crown an inaugural set of award recipients.
In the last two years, 12 Chinese companies have opened or expanded in Charlotte. If you look at the list of international companies the Charlotte Chamber had conversations with last year about possibly moving to Charlotte, China topped the list for the very first time.
But Richard Yang doesn't need statistics to know China's presence in Charlotte is growing.
"We have parties together all the time," says Yang.
As their parties got bigger and bigger, Yang and about a dozen other Chinese-Americans decided to form the Carolinas Chinese Chamber of Commerce. That was in 2011.
Today, the group has more than 200 members and a better way to connect with investors and trading partners in China, says Yang.
"All of us, the members have a lot of connections in China and people over there are getting rich - they are looking for a good opportunity and good place to invest," says Yang.
Those personal connections are critical because hardly anyone in China has even heard of Charlotte – unless they're an avid NBA fan, adds Yang.
This recent boom in Chinese companies setting up shop here is tied to the decision Jeff Edge made five years ago at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. That's when he hired a Chinese native named Eileen Cai to focus specifically on recruiting in Asia.
"She's in China right now," says Edge. "We're finding a lot of the companies that she has recruited are starting to refer her to other companies."
That snowball effect culminated recently in the largest-ever investment by a Chinese company in Charlotte: IT consulting firm Pactera announced plans to open its U.S. headquarters here and bring 200 jobs.
Previous Chinese company openings have been far smaller, bringing maybe a few dozen jobs. But Jeff Edge says most international investment does start small.
"For example opening a sales office," says Edge. "And then they may in a few years add some distribution and then a few years later they may add some manufacturing and before you know it, it does grow to be something significant."
China is just a blip in Charlotte's economy today, but look what happened with Germany, which is the foreign country with the largest contingent of companies in Mecklenburg County.
Twenty-five years ago there were 68 German firms here. By 2011, that figured had nearly doubled.