Hong Kong is continuing to grow as a Shangri-La for overseas and the Chinese mainland's corporate giants and small entrepreneurial investment alike, and the powerhouse city's welcome mat is gaining prominence to entice many more in the future, a seminar here was told on Wednesday.
With 7,250 mainland and foreign companies running business operations in Hong Kong in 2012 -- mainly from the United States, Japan, the Chinese mainland and Britain -- it represents a 4.3 percent increase over last year.
Hong Kong has become a globally focused powerhouse in addition to its traditional role as gateway to China, said Simon Galpin, director general of investment promotion at Invest Hong Kong, a government department established in 2000 to encourage and assist companies from all around the world to have a presence in Hong Kong.
"In addition to that role, Hong Kong is also becoming important as a springboard for Chinese mainland companies to go global," Galpin told about 50 business leaders from Houston, Texas, on Wednesday.
Galpin has been doing business in Hong Kong for 19 years and has senior management experience in the private and public sectors. He has been with Invest Hong Kong since the department's second year in 2001.
According to a survey by Invest Hong Kong, of the Chinese mainland and foreign companies doing business in Hong Kong today, 22 percent plan to expand their business operations during the next three years.
"There are things that set Hong Kong aside from other parts of China," Galpin said. "The rule of law based on British Common Law, convertible currency basically pegged to the U.S. dollar and the fact that we have a completely separate taxation system that is very simple, very predictable."
Though low labor costs might have been a prime consideration 20 years ago when Hong Kong was a manufacturing Mecca, Galpin said that today's Hong Kong is open to a wide variety of large and small businesses, some of them among the most technically driven, fiber-optic centers in the world.
"Everybody in Hong Kong has a cell phone," he said. "There are enough for every baby in Hong Kong to have two cell phones. Today, people see China as a tremendous place to do business because of the large population and its economic growth."
Galpin said his visit to Houston, the United States' fourth largest city, was prompted by Invest Hong Kong's desire to reach out to more companies in Houston and throughout Texas that may wish to do business in Hong Kong.
Currently among Invest Hong Kong clients from Texas are leading law firms, energy companies and banks, he said.
"Hong Kong is China light -- an easy place to set up base and do business with the China mainland, Vietnam and other Asian countries," Galpin said. "We have 48 million visitors coming to Hong Kong basically to shop ... Open a business in Hong Kong and business comes to you."
Invest Hong Kong works with about 700 businesses at any given time, about 20 percent of which are from the United States, Galpin said.
"We're seeing companies come from the two ends of the spectrum -- very large companies and the other trend we're seeing is small companies. You don't have to be a large company to do business in Hong Kong, but you do have to be competitive," he said.
The seminar at which Galpin spoke was titled "Hong Kong Right Place, Right Time, Right Now," and Galpin said that underscored the fact that Hong Kong is "not a post-Colonial relic frozen in time."
"Businesses come to Hong Kong because they want to access the cities and areas around Hong Kong -- the China mainland, South Korea, Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Singapore, Tokyo," Galpin said. "Hong Kong will remain a low-tax economy with no sales tax, no capital tax. If you have a new technology, this is a great place to try it out."
While Hong Kong has few natural resources, it has a population of 7.1 million and a government that invests in their education.
"The single greatest resource is our people and our universities are among the best in the world," Galpin said.
Far from the movie stereotype of kung-fu practitioners on every corner, Galpin said, Hong Kong is one of the safest countries on the planet.
"The number of wealthy people continues to grow and wealthy individuals from the China mainland and elsewhere come to buy," he said. "Four-plus million visitors a year come to buy."
In terms of U.S. dollars, Hong Kong generates about 83 billion U.S. dollars annually and sends out 82 billion, much of which goes to the Chinese mainland, Galpin said.
"Hong Kong is the world's (most free) economy, with free trade in the heart of Asia," he said.