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Qingdao to spur innovation

  • Published: Oct 11, 2012
  • Source: CAE
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In order to accelerate its transformation into a powerhouse of innovation, Qingdao is taking multiple measures to attract world-class research and development facilities from all over the globe, especially regional R&D centers of Fortune 500 enterprises.

Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology lifted the limits on foreign investment in research areas to encourage more overseas companies to build technical centers in China.

Following the ministry's cues, Qingdao will take the lead by opening relative markets and launching its own incentives for companies to locate innovation centers there, ensuring that foreign companies enjoy the same benefits as Chinese ones, according to the local government.

"The integration of technology, economy and corporate development is very important, and our goal is for the economy to be greatly driven by technological innovation," said Qingdao Party Secretary Li Qun.

"In addition to having big companies take part in major projects, it's even more important to raise the capacity for innovation among small and medium-sized companies. And we will provide more preferential policies to encourage scientists and technicians to release their innovative power," he added.

Not only does Qingdao have extensive infrastructure, a livable environment and a large talent pool, but also operating costs here are relatively low compared to first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

"We believe opening this city up to the world will attract more international companies to set up innovation centers in Qingdao," Li said.

Jiang Bo, director of the Qingdao Bureau of Science and Technology, said the government will open new communication channels for publicizing its incentives to foreign companies and allaying any potential concerns resulting from misunderstandings.

Indigenous tech firms

In addition to projects introduced by well-known foreign brands, Qingdao's homegrown companies have also boosted their innovation and creativity under the guidance of government policies in recent years.

Jiang said Qingdao began undertaking national innovation projects back in 2004, and it was awarded the first pilot project for State-supported technological innovation cities.

A number of technological institutions were founded, including national major project laboratories, an engineering and technology center, an academician workstation and a post-doctoral workstation.

By 2010, 353 large-scale R&D centers had settled in Qingdao, accounting for 62.8 percent of the city's total. More than 1 billion yuan ($160 million) worth of funding for these centers was awarded by the government that year, and 500 million yuan came from venture capital.

Special attention has been paid to innovation and technological development in government negotiations with potential investors. City officials have set a specific goal of drawing an additional 80 R&D centers in the near future with favorable policies in such areas as taxation, land and talent.

Indigenous enterprises are also augmenting their own creative capacity. In fact, homegrown star companies Haier and Hisense owe their success to their own investments in research and development. The two companies' technology centers are listed as national-level key laboratories, and research spending accounts for more than 5 percent of their sales revenues.

By 2015, the city will double the number of its R&D centers to 700, and research spending will also be doubled to 20 billion yuan, according to the Qingdao Corporate R&D Cultivation Plan, a city strategy launched this August.

According to the plan, its research staff will reach 60,000 and patent filings are projected to hit 4,000 by that time. The plan also stresses that R&D centers shall serve a full range, from large to small enterprises.

Innovative strength

The Qingdao Bureau of Science and Technology will focus on a series of major projects that are expected to churn out cutting-edge technologies. Leaders hope this strategy will boost the city's status and place it among the nation's top innovative centers.

Additionally, attracting talent and commercializing research findings will also be high priorities on the bureau's working agenda.

"We will also guide large local companies to optimize the functions of their R&D centers and encourage them to make breakthroughs in leading fields by taking on more national projects," Jiang added.

Since the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), Qingdao has successfully applied for 1.5 billion yuan worth of funds from the central government for taking part in noted national projects, including the country's top science and technology projects - the National 863 Plan, the 973 Plan and the Torch plans.

Qingdao has been granted nine national technology awards and 151 awards from the provincial government.

The National Laboratory of Digital Household Appliances, led by Haier, recently passed inspection by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The lab has taken 16 national projects since it was founded in April 2008. It has applied for 102 patents in addition to hosting or taking part in the making of 16 industry standards.

So far, the overall innovative strength of Qingdao has been boosted by the opening of 95 major laboratories at different levels and 95 engineering technology centers, including the MESNAC Rubber & Tire R&D Center and the Haier Household Appliance Mold.

As the hub of Shandong peninsula's blue economy, Qingdao is a city brimming with coastal and marine resources, specialized marine technology talent, and a number of oceanographic institutions and universities.

To fully utilize these advantages, Qingdao has been working toward its new target of becoming China's "Blue Silicon Valley".

In July, the Qingdao city government signed scientific cooperation agreements with the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, the China Electronic Technology Group Corporation, the China Iron & Steel Research Institute Group and the China North Chemical Industries Group to conduct joint research on marine engineering, equipment and special materials.

These four leading ocean-related corporations have agreed to build research facilities in Qingdao. These companies will also be allowed to utilize military technology for civilian use in this sector.

According to the bureau, more policies favorable to ocean-related research institutions will be drafted in a bid to create more high-end marine technology development centers that help its economy climb up the value chain while consolidating its dominant position in the fundamental research of marine technology.

Furthermore, emerging and strategic industries like information, new materials, alternative energy, pharmaceutical and high-tech equipment manufacturing, will also benefit from the government's policies.

A total of 20 high-end city-level public research platforms regarding the aforementioned industries will be constructed across the city, and 30 specialized technological service platforms will be built by district and county-level governments to provide professional techniques and industrial testing services for small and medium-sized enterprises.

(China Daily 10/11/2012 page7)