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The rise of China’s Greater Bay Area

McKinsey senior partner and managing partner of the McKinsey Greater China office, Joe Ngai, spoke with McKinsey advisor Gordon Orr about the rise of the Greater Bay Area around Shenzhen.

Joe Ngai: So Gordon, one of the topics these days is around the Greater Bay Area. This is actually around Shenzhen, Hong Kong--we used to call it the Pearl River Delta Area. In your predictions, you think that this is actually one of the up and coming regions for China. Why do you think that?

Gordon Orr: Well for starters, this region has been growing faster than the average across China. So it's been part of the continuing shift of the center of gravity of China's economic activity. It's been moving south really for thirty years, and you're really seeing it now. What you've got now is a cocktail of inputs that's really ready to bubble up.

This is the youngest region in China. It's the most educated, most talent rich region in China. It's enormously capital rich. It's got fantastic infrastructure, and it's got this unique thing with Hong Kong connected to it that creates a global capability and global connectivity to capital and professional services that's unique.

Joe: I think that Shenzhen is now by far the most sophisticated city among this Greater Bay Area. I think it's leading the way in terms of many industries. High tech for example, is a fundamental strength of Shenzhen. Now for the cities around Shenzhen, for them to be a part of this Greater Bay Area and not to really have all the resources go towards Shenzhen, what do they need to do, because there's quite a bit of them that are in Zhuhai, a lot of these around Shenzhen area.

Do they have a risk, that actually Shenzhen would attract too much resources into Shenzhen and the other guys around there, from a talent perspective, from a resource perspective, a capital perspective, will be kind of lagging behind. How do they collaborate to become an area here?

Gordon: This is where having world-class 21st century infrastructure really matters. If getting from Dongguan to Shenzhen is twenty-five minutes or from Hong Kong to Guangzhou is thirty minutes. The distances just disappear. And you can live and you can work and you can connect with suppliers and you can set up a really nice research campus fifty miles from Shenzhen, but you’re going backwards and forwards all day. So that's why I think that the Greater Bay Area emphasis on bringing people together through world-class infrastructure is the key enabler to avoid what you just said.

Joe: Let's talk about it a little bit around the industries in here. I think that basically right now we see a lot of financial services, we see a lot of high tech, we see a lot of internet. We now see a lot of biotech coming up as well. So the future of the Greater Bay Area, is that the Silicon Valley of China?

Gordon: I think it's much richer than Silicon Valley. Just the subset of industries that you just mentioned is much broader than traditional internet based company startups. Plus you've got the high tech manufacturing. You've got companies like BYD creating electrical vehicle clusters that are there. And I think you're seeing real innovation in the service sector as well.

Joe: Obviously with Tencent, Ping An, and all these innovative companies in there, you actually have the cluster of both internet, finance and many others there too.

Gordon: And they're sort of the godfathers of all of this. You look at where the talents was formed in a Ping An or a Tencent and how it spun out and created an ecosystem around it of related businesses, some of which were independent, some of which connected to those folks. It's incredibly vital, it's incredibly energetic. I think the thing you realize when you go to Shenzhen is that the city government itself continues to play a critical role. Just the quality, again, of the infrastructure they've put in place, the ease of connection to Hong Kong, the support they give to multinational companies wanting to come and base themselves there is fantastic.

Gordon: So in your prediction, the Greater Bay Area, will give the Shanghai-Hangzhou hub a real run for their money?

Joe: Absolutely. The acid test on that is go to a leading Beijing university, talk to some of the tech graduates and ask them, do they want to move to Shanghai? Or do they want to move to the Greater Bay Area. You'll see them in Shenzhen.