HQ Vancouver, a new partnership between the B.C. and federal governments and the Business Council of B.C., launched Friday and will attempt to coax Asian companies to locate their North American head offices in the city.
It's estimated that Asian corporations will represent more than half of global Fortune 500 companies by 2035, said Industry Minister James Moore at a news conference.
"All kinds of firms are looking to North America as an opportunity to set up shop, and B.C. is particularly well positioned to realize gains from this growth in Asian businesses," he said.
The goal is to attract two head office accounts by the end of 2017, plus a commitment from three organizations to establish their head offices in B.C. by 2019, he said.
B.C. Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat said Metro Vancouver is now the most Asian city outside of Asia, with 43 per cent of residents having Asian heritage.
"Trade and investment with Asia are critical to growing B.C.'s diverse economy," she said, adding that head offices generate a number of direct benefits including job creation.
She touted the province's strategic location on the Pacific Rim and its competitive tax rates, with companies paying a combined federal and provincial corporate income tax of 26 per cent.
The federal government has promised to invest over $1.9 million in the next three years, while the business council will invest $1.2 million and B.C. is expected to provide $3.3 million in funding and in-kind support.
Bruce Ralston, international trade critic for B.C.'s Opposition New Democrats, pointed out the province has a number of trade offices in China, Japan and India, and the premier and international trade minister travel regularly to Asia.
"I would've thought that that was part of what they did, was try to persuade businesses to invest and locate in British Columbia," he said. "Why you need another $3.3 million to duplicate that same work, I don't understand."
He added the province already has an initiative called AdvantageBC, a non-profit society that offers tax breaks to attract international companies to B.C.
Yuen Pao Woo, former head of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, has been appointed president of HQ Vancouver. He will lead a team focused on engaging business leaders and identifying head office opportunities.
"We are indeed one of the most, if not the most, livable cities in the world," Woo said. "However, most of our Asian friends don't know that we are an excellent destination as a head office location for their North American operations."
He said his team will articulate a forceful case for the city and disseminate the message far and wide in Asia.
Donald Campbell, a distinguished fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation, said despite a slowdown in Chinese economic growth, many Asian companies — particularly in Japan — are looking to move more production and decision-making offshore.
Campbell said one big challenge is that Toronto has already established itself as the country's financial centre. But he said Vancouver could attract companies in the life sciences, as well as in information technology.
"I think the kinds of jobs that we're looking for are high-education, high-value jobs," he said. "I think this will be in the information technologies and in the whole world of entertainment and gaming."
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