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May 5, 2010

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Expo an opportunity business world couldn't afford to ignore

SHANGHAI has always been all about business, and nowhere is that more evident than at the World Expo, a giant bazaar of ideas, technologies and PR offensives focused on the world's fastest-growing major market.

In a cash-strapped 21st century of market meltdowns and big bailouts, the Expo is a multibillion dollar business opportunity that has yielded massive contracts for design, equipment and engineering firms.

Since they started out displaying new industrial technologies alongside new design and cultural offerings in the mid-19th century, world's fairs have always been something of a global marketplace in miniature.

With China's economy growing faster than most and poised to soon overtake Japan's as the second-biggest after the United States, the Expo's role as a venue for networking and marketing is bigger than ever before.

"It gives everyone an excuse to come to China. It's going to be parties and receptions and networking and mingling and looking around," said James McGregor, a senior counselor for consulting firm APCO Worldwide Inc, and author of the book, "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China."

Given China's growing status and power, even crisis-stricken Greece and Iceland went ahead with pavilion plans, wary of the costs of lost opportunities in this huge and growing market.

"We're getting the word out that we stand for so much more than just maybe the headlines about the financial crisis and ash closing down the airports in Europe, we have other things to offer," said Hreinn Palsson, Iceland's consul general in Shanghai and its Expo commissioner general.

"We're using this event and these facilities to establish connections, establish a point that companies can come to and work out of here in China," he said.

Corporations both Chinese and foreign are also here in force. Cisco Systems Inc, Coca Cola Co and General Motors Co have pavilions built on a scale to match some of the biggest countries. Chinese shipbuilders, appliance makers, telecoms companies and food providers - practically everyone with a stake in China's huge market is here.

While organizers and participants have rarely disclosed contract terms, the event is proving a windfall in hard times for many.

Spending just by tourists during the six-month event is forecast to reach 45 billion yuan (US$6.6 billion).

The construction of more than 200 pavilions on the Expo site brought in scores of foreign design, architecture, engineering and equipment companies, hired both by China and by participating countries.

"The whole Expo is our pavilion," said Richard Hausmann, president and CEO of Siemens China.

The German company is a sponsor and contractor for lighting systems and building technology and equipment in 40 projects at the Expo and also a key supplier for Shanghai's subway and railway projects, among many others.

Many of the countries with pavilions at the World Expo are likewise showcasing their own manufacturers and giving corporate sponsors an opportunity to reach the expected 70 million visitors to the event.


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