It’s difficult to obtain precise data, but business experts and immigration lawyers say it’s a natural progression, as investors from Mainland China move from real estate to more active investments, including the acquisition of small- and medium-sized enterprises.
In booming Squamish, a number of small-business owners have recently sold to Chinese buyers.
Ryan Liebrecht owned the Living Room Restaurant, just off the Sea-to-Sky Highway, until two weeks ago, when he sold it to Sophie Pu and Marco Chi, a married couple from Guangzhou, China. Last year, the restaurant was listed for sale and received visits from about a dozen different prospective buyers. All of them were Chinese, Liebrecht said, though he couldn’t say how many already lived in B.C., and how many, like the eventual buyers, were based in China and looking to move here.
The new owners are “a good fit,” Liebrecht said. “They’re treating the staff very well ... even though there’s language barriers.”
Pu and Chi, speaking through a translator, said they’re very happy after buying a home in Squamish and moving in last month, calling the town an “amazing place” with “very nice people.”
“The environment is very nice,” said Pu. “The air is so clean, so we don’t mind if it rains all the time.”
The couple still have business concerns and a residence in Guangzhou. But, they said, they plan to make Squamish their primary home now, and their son and daughter will soon join them and enrol in the local public school.
A friend of Chi and Pu’s from Guangzhou bought a gas station in Squamish two years ago, they said, and more recently another friend bought a small bakery in Nanaimo.
In the last five years Chinese investment in B.C. has shifted to more diverse sectors, including technology, dairy farms and food processing, said Teresa Wat, B.C. minister of international trade, in an emailed statement.
“The B.C. government is committed to attracting more investment like this to B.C. by marketing the province’s competitive advantages,” Wat said.
In December, Chinese investors bought the ghost town of Bradian, north of Whistler, with plans to develop it into a recreation destination.
John Lovelace of Sutton Seafair Realty was involved with the Bradian deal, and believes Chinese investment into his specialty of rural B.C. property is only going to get bigger.
Lovelace said his Chinese clients’ interest in rural B.C. properties and businesses has surged in the last six to 12 months, to the point where 75 per cent of his business is Chinese investors. Previously, “they only looked at residential realty,” he said.
“This is what we need to do to get our rural economies booming,” he said. “If (investment) happens to come from the foreign markets, so be it. It’s going to put Canadians to work.”
Lovelace has three other multimillion-dollar deals pending with Chinese investors, he said. Unlike Bradian, those involve ongoing business concerns, everything from agri-business to tourism and residential development.
Yuen Pau Woo, a senior fellow at the University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University, said Chinese investors are taking more active roles in Canadian enterprises in recent years as they’ve become more settled in the cultural and business climate. And, he says, “this is just early days, there’s lots more potential.”
Vancouver has long been a popular place for wealthy Asian CEOs to vacation, educate their kids or retire, said Woo. But in the future, Woo believes, Vancouver can play a more prominent role in global business and attract regional head offices of Asian companies.
The more recent investor immigrants, he said, “are here not simply to buy up real estate. But they’re genuinely looking for other kinds of business opportunities.”
“They are landed immigrants. They are Canadians. They want to make their lives here,” he said.
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