BUSINESS: North Vancouver's Korean connection
When municipalities on opposite sides of the globe make friends, it’s often for little more than a photo op.
“It used to be a big status thing,” says North Vancouver district councillor Mike Little.
But things change and today, the district’s informal friendship agreement with Guro, Korea is proving that, if done right, municipalities can truly be friends with benefits.
The key, it seems, is for politicians like Little to get out of the way.
While municipalities — including those on the North Shore — have in the past spent thousands in local taxpayer dollars sending politicians on globetrotting gift-exchange missions, today, districts like North Vancouver are rethinking that friendship model.
Glad handing can be a great start, but if there’s no buy-in from businesses on either side, there’s no benefit, says Little.
“We’d previously had an agreement with a Chinese community as a cultural exchange, but it became a government endeavour only,” he says. “This time we decided that if it’s government-to-government only, that’s of no interest.”
And so, he and a few others at district hall and the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce picked some brains in the local business community and plotted some points on a map.
With Asia-Pacific trade ever top of mind for the province and a large Korean community already entrenched in the North Shore, the Seoul suburb of Guro emerged as a natural choice. A meeting was set up and the rest is history.
That was in late 2009, and today North Van’s Korean connection is paying real dividends for businesses on both sides of the watery divide.
Take Hiossen Inc., for example. Before last October, the little-known subsidiary of Korean dental implant giant, Osstem, was nowhere in the Canadian market.
Today, Hiossen president Shawn Kim leads The Outlook on a tour of his company’s impressive national headquarters in Lynn Valley where they distribute their products and teach doctors how to use them.
“We looked at a number of areas before here,” says the Korean-born Kim, adding that he’s spent considerable time in both Toronto and Montreal, assessing their viability as Hiossen’s potential Canadian launch pad. “Just looking at simple numbers, you’d say Toronto is best.”
“We contacted cities about helping but none of them got back to us,” he adds. “North Vancouver did.”
That help came in lessons in our tax codes and help locating empty office spaces in the district.
“The bigger companies know what they’re doing and they don’t need the help,” Kim says. It’s the small to medium start-ups that need that competitive edge when branching out internationally, he added.
And that goes too for North Vancouver companies looking to Korea to do business.
Arc’teryx clothing, ALS Laboratories and Deltalok earth walls are just some of the North Vancouver companies that have seen considerable success on the Korean market since joining the Guro exchange. Capilano University is another.
And with a chamber of commerce contingent from that city due to visit North Van this fall, more are expected to pile on.
“The district is just a great contact point,” Kim says. “It’ll be our springboard to the rest of Canada.”