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Business From Mainland China Booming : Trade: The growing trend defies the recession, bringing investments in import-export companies, tourism, commercial and residential real estate.

First Of Two Parts

October 10, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THE REGION — For the past year, motorists crawling along the San Bernardino Freeway have come upon a monstrous sign, "Xiang Yun," mounted prominently on the side of an El Monte building.

A local Chinese-American company, they might assume, or perhaps even one of the many San Gabriel Valley ventures with ties to Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Well, guess again.

The Xiang Yun sign is the most visible evidence of a new phenomenon--a growing Mainland China business presence in the area, coupled with dramatic mainland investment in everything from San Gabriel Valley commercial buildings to shopping centers, hotels, warehouse space, and even homes.

The Beijing-based company, whose name means "good luck cloud," has started exporting machinery and food processing equipment to China, said Xiang Yun business manager Charlene Ji. In the near future, Ji hopes, the company will acquire local warehouse space to house imported Chinese-made goods for sale here.

"The building is quite obvious (from the freeway), and transportation is good. Also, it's close to Monterey Park, so it's easier to contact other people from China or from Taiwan" to do business, said Ji, whose company rents two floors of space and employs 10 people, most of whom live nearby, in Alhambra, Temple City and neighboring communities.

For the San Gabriel Valley economy, boosted in the 1980s by an influx of Chinese investment from Taiwan and Hong Kong, the mainland trend may mean a healthy jump-start out of the recession doldrums, local real estate brokers and Chinese community leaders say.

The trend is the ironic result of investment patterns that have come full circle. Before 1988, investors from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong flocked to Los Angeles County to take advantage of the real estate boom. As those investors started losing money in California's depressed economy, however, they turned their attention to Mainland China, contributing to the full pockets of entrepreneurs there who are now stocking up on properties here.

"In 1987, 1988 and 1989, people started to make money in China. People have their own businesses, and they've grown bigger and bigger. People think, 'We need to put some money overseas,' " said James Chou, vice president of George Realty Group Inc. in Alhambra. Chou said many of the mainland investors are government groups affiliated with particular cities.

In addition to the growing number of mainland-based import-export businesses such as Xiang Yun, and a flurry of real estate investments, mainland interest in the region is also translating into tourist dollars: Thousands of business people visit the area each month, snapping pictures of Monterey Park officials on the steps of City Hall, checking out local industrial sites and swapping business cards while spending money at stores, restaurants, hotels and local tour companies.

"Since June of last year, every day there are two or three trade delegations from China," said Ed Wong, president of the Monterey Park Rotary Club, who started doing business with Mainland China 14 years ago in the garment industry, and now also brokers Chinese consumer goods for sale in markets from here to Africa and sells building materials and medical equipment to China.

U.S. Department of Commerce figures on Mainland China's direct investment in the United States focus on large industrial purchases, an official with the agency said. According to the figures, the cumulative value of China's investment in the entire United States was $126 million at the end of 1992, compared with $87 million at the end of 1989.

But those figures are deceptively small, according to local Chinese-American real estate brokers who are cutting deals in the San Gabriel Valley.

Chou estimates Mainland China investment in the San Gabriel Valley at over $100 million in 1992 alone.

"I have a lot of customers," Chou said.

Many of the deals are in the $5 million to $10 million range, Chou added. He recently sold a Monterey Park hotel for $3 million to a Mainland China group, along with two local office buildings and a high-rise off the San Bernardino Freeway, he said.

Government investors from Mainland China closed a $15.5-million deal in February to purchase Temple City Square, a seven-acre shopping center on the northwest corner of Rosemead Boulevard and Las Tunas Drive, said Charles J. Huang, an investment properties specialist with CB Commercial in the City of Industry.

According to Monterey Park city officials, mainland China investors built a six-story building in the city's Corporate Center Business Park earlier this year, which followed the purchase of the former Jean Jac Building, on Atlantic Boulevard near Garvey, by another mainland group. The Hoa Binh Supermarket on Atlantic Boulevard also changed hands recently to mainland ownership.

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