In reality, this situation has been going on for a while now. The downturn in the US economy many months ago changed the dynamics of manufacturing. With changes in regulations and demands, rising RMB vs. the Dollar exchange rate and other factors, previous factories that employed 100-200 workers couldnt maintain cash flow and pay for their workers.
While talking to managers at plants, some said that it was better for them to go idle than to manufacture something because the things they made was almost always at a loss. Other factories didnt even have the convenience of deciding to manufacturer or not. Once booming factories couldn't get any new orders from their clients in Europe and the US. No orders = no work = no jobs = plants closing down. Fast forward to the present and we see factories with 2000 workers collapse. That's intense. I've seen recent stats that more than 50% of all toy companies in Shenzhen have closed down.
The thing is, as much as this economic downturn in the globalized economy has hurt a lot of export-driven businesses, and its workers in Shenzhen, it's really helping Shenzhen transform itself to what it wants to become. For the past 2 years since I've been living here, there has been a constant trend and push by local officials to develop Shenzhen as a city dominated by high-tech research rather than lower value-added manufacturing. It wants to go from labor intensive, basic and easy things like the toy industry to industries higher on the totem pole of innovation.
As much as Shenzhen was able to get its start from being that factory town "across the border" for Hong Kong businessmen, its goal is to move away from that persona into an international city of something other than toys, eye glass frames and furniture. It wants to be a city on the same scale as Beijing and Shanghai, or better than Singapore.
So while Shenzhen has slowly tried to shed its own manufacturing persona (these are well documented and that I wont go through), it has done many things to promote innovation, whether its opening a office in NYC or being ranked a leader of innovation in Asia in a recent study. Other things include:
- Establishing favorable policies for high tech industries - this includes lower taxes and cheaper office buildings (among others)
- Attracting more and more Chinese people back from overseas, whether its recent graduates or seasoned professionals and intellectuals.
- Maintaining a high education work force. Supposedly more workers in Shenzhen have advanced degrees than any other city in China. I'm sure most of these are in fields of engineering, mathematics, ect.
- Increasing its financial clout. Shenzhen has developed the Nasdaq-style exchange for SMEs (adding to its current Shenzhen Stock Exchange) while more and more investment banks and financial companies are established here.
- Promoting greater cooperation with Hong Kong (which is definitely an international city). This work might culminate into a "mega city" metropolis of 20 million people that combines both cities.
- Investing in an amazing, state of the art Terminal C at Shenzhen Airport.
- There has been recent emphasis on art, music and culture in the predominantly money-hungry and business rich environment.
- Focusing on the legal industry. Peking University recently opened a regional campus in Shenzhen as the 1st American-type law school in China. They even invited Justice Anthony Kennedy from the US Supreme court to give the Keynote at the dedication ceremony.
I don’t think anything will stop the development of Shenzhen into the international power city it wants to become. As long as there are no unforeseen problems with the unskilled laborers who have been getting laid off at factories. If you want to get in on the Shenzhen story, better buy a house now before the prices start going up again.