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Dongguan High-Tech: A Hidden GEM?

Have you ever thought of a high-tech career in Dongguan? There is more to it for a foreigner when it comes to this city’s opportunities than just running an ethnic restaurant or having one of those ubiquitous teaching engagements.

Here, we look at Dongguan’s overall scenery development of what’s considered high-tech (computers, robots, artificial intelligence, 5G). Where does Dongguan stand compared to its tech giant neighbors, and does it cover a spread of big and small companies that have their skin in the game? In the end, we’ll guestimate what one could expect out of Dongguan’s high-tech field.

FROM GLOBAL BRANDS TO HIDDEN GEMS

With Dongguan being joined at the hip to two megacities, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, this is both a blessing and a curse. The curse being that those two megalopolises are very rich and well developed; Shenzhen in particular is recognized as a global high-tech leader.

Suppose you’re an ace in your field—especially with sophisticated software, where China seems to be generally weak across the board—you can command salary packages beyond even Silicon Valley levels. The associated research and academic prospects are also unbeatable if you’re into that. So, on its own, Dongguan couldn’t compete against these giants head-on.

Let’s look at something big and flashy: if Dongguan wanted to have a supercomputer, it would have to contend with the world-class standing of both Guangzhou (world leader until five years ago) and Shenzhen (likely leading in two short years). Unless Dongguan created a commercially viable, one-of-a-kind niche to benefit its industry and education, it would not stand a chance compared to these neighboring competitors.

Now, the blessing: the spillover effect from both Shenzhen and Guangzhou and increased land scarcity has resulted in the relocation of major facilities. In the case of Huawei, part of its headquarters is currently located in Dongguan. The Songshan Lake area is the first primary beneficiary.

The under-construction Binhai New City (straddling Humen and Chang’an coasts and joining the Shenzhen Bao’an district) is the next area for selected high-tech names. Vivo has just completed their huge new central hub there, with three 24-story staff residential towers you can see from the S3 coastal highway near the DongBao bridge to Shenzhen.

Being a so-called “cityburb” of two huge cities has its benefits, even when this “cityburb” is Paris-sized in population and actual size. As Dongguan wants to prove, it’s not any less worthy than the two adjoining giants.

“The city government should come up with a concrete package to subsidize major overseas high-tech corporations, host exchange exhibitions and workshops,” said Mark Hsieh, a Taiwan-born international sales manager at Dongguan Action Composites.

What high-tech industries can we find here, and which of them could potentially attract a wide-eyed foreign talent looking for their China career adventure? Again, it depends on what level of high-tech satisfies you…

Suppose you’re good at designing the next generation USB3 wireless gaming keyboards, mice, PC casing or another kind of computer peripheral. In that case, there are several local factories with their design and development capabilities that might be happy to welcome you as they fight for some of the world’s biggest customers.

You’ll find such companies mostly around the Chang’an, Humen and Houjie southern industrial belt.

Alert: they are mostly hidden in unattractive non-descript factory buildings, but the dedication towards innovation and the promotion in global markets are a given.

Suppose you like high-class research and development and an institution-oriented environment, as well as corporate significant name association and career opportunities. In that case, the Songshan Lake area is by far the best choice. Although its humongous presence can’t be ignored, Huawei isn’t the only potential employer in town either.

THE BIG COMPANIES

So, who do we have in this city of many rivers? Besides Huawei, the prominent brand names known to everyone are Oppo and Vivo. Did you know that both are owned by the same Dongguan holding company, BBK Communication Technology Co Ltd, headquartered in Chang’an? If combined as one, Oppo and Vivo would likely be the world’s largest mobile phone vendor. Not to mention that it’s a Dongguan baby.

HUAWEI

While Huawei’s main headquarters remain in Bantian, Shenzhen, its new central campus, Huawei Terminal Headquarters, is in Dongguan. A significant move to the Songshan Lake area that commenced five years ago resulted in a futuristic yet faux facility. Call it an integrated town unto itself.

Most of the new generation consumer devices, including smartphones, are created there. A massive chunk of the international marketing force for these devices is there, too. According to company insiders, more of the high-end system-level operations are introduced at the Songshan Lake campus.

Several years ago, I recalled some foreigners refusing to move from the then-Nanshan, Shenzhen, Huawei marketing location to Dongguan, since their local wives couldn’t bear to tell their relatives that they would live in Dongguan. Now, the situation has improved by leaps and bounds. Compared to the Bantian base, the Huawei Terminal Headquarters might be a magnet with its superior living comforts, nearby international schools and numerous recreational facilities.

SONGSHAN LAKE

At the Chinese Business Congress Wealth Leaders Forum held in Beijing in 2008, Chen Xiaohui, then Deputy Director of Songshan Lake Science and Technology Industrial Park, said that “Songshan Lake zone wasn’t created to pursue selfdevelopment as the goal, but to amplify the development of science and technology-oriented economy, and enable larger scientific and technological development breakthroughs.”

THE SMALL COMPANIES

The Songshan Lake National Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone has hundreds of innovative technology enterprises. Besides the Huawei campus, there are other large companies including China Wireless Technology, EAST, Celestica Electronics and Shengyi Technology. The academic institutions include the Dongguan-Shanghai University Nanotechnology Research Institute, Guangdong Intelligent Robotics Institute, Dongguan University of Technology (DGUT) and the Institute of Dongguan Tongji University.

In the words of senior professor Liu Zhimeng of DGUT, “The on-goingNational Center for Southern Science and Technology area, which combines the Songshan Lake Science City with the nearby Shenzhen Guangming New District Science City, will be China’s southern center of landmark science and technology development.”

He added that the DGUT Songshan Lake campus was created in 2003, marking the beginning of the overall Songshan Lake effort.

There are other major clusters within the district, such as Songshan Lake Xbot Park. Their focus is on intelligent manufacturing-related enterprises that are essential for the high-tech manufacturing industry 4.0 initiative. To further support high-tech industrial applications, research facilities such as Songshan Lake Materials Lab and the PRD Office of the CAS Institute of Physics have been created.

At the bleeding edge, note the Neutron Science City’s construction with globally unique scientific facilities, such as China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS) and Southern Light Source, following in the footsteps of Switzerland’s CERN.

Now, how about the medium to smaller-scale, local establishments mentioned earlier? They are spread all over this sprawling collection of towns. Remember, in China, a company with 500 to 1,000 staff members is considered small to medium size in the case of manufacturing establishments.

One of them is E-Sun Electronics (Dongguan Weiji Electronic Technology), located in a Humen industrial area; these guys are competing against much larger Shenzhen companies in the high-end gaming keyboard and mice market. To carve out their niche, they instituted both unique design capabilities and—for a Chinese factory at least—very exhaustive testing and reliable facilities in their factory, with the addition of every possible international certification obtainable.

“As we focus on both domestic and international markets, even in the pandemic time, we really hope to have access to more quality foreign talent to join our team in both technology and business positions,” said company boss, Liu Feng.

Another company, Guangdong South Hongming Electronic Science and Technology, started as Dongguan South in Nancheng almost three decades ago. Today, they have a Wangniudun facility with around 360 workers, designing and manufacturing several types of capacitors, varistors and thermistors for high-end electronics, high-voltage and other uses. They have invested in massive amounts of international certification efforts. Proof of their quality maintenance is the fact that this factory has produced components for China’s human-crewed space flights, including both the spacecraft and the launch vehicle. The company plans to become the leader in China for this type of high-tech componentry

Lastly, Kolmach, founded in July 2014, is headquartered in the Innovation City of Songshan Lake High-Tech Industrial Park in Dongguan City. The manufacturing base is in nearby Dalingshan Town. Since its establishment, the company has focused on high-end equipment manufacturing and solutions, unique high-end machine tools, research and development, and manufacturing. The company has grown into a small number of domestic enterprises. They have mastered the manufacturing capabilities of five-axis CNC machine tools and multi-axis technology applications.

IS DONGGUAN A GOOD PLACE FOR TECHIES?

Why not? The smorgasbord of Dongguan high-tech career offerings would rival any major Western city on its own. The added benefit of extra resources in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong doesn’t hurt either.

However, except Huawei and BBK as well as some government technology institutes and academia here, the local high-tech industry hasn’t had much success attracting the increasingly needed high-tech foreign talent. In fact, it often doesn’t seem to know how to start the process. Some foreign residents who are in Dongguan for other purposes, and who are skilled in these high-tech areas, likely lack the contacts and the means to interact with the local companies or institutions.

This is an opportunity on its own; an infusion of creative foreign talent would help these Dongguan high-tech establishments, large and small alike, to compete better within China and across the globe. Nevertheless, to kickstart the process, the city government would likely need to step in and play the enabler or matchmaker. Some institutions, like DGUT, have programs that could easily be optimized to attract foreign talent. Their entrepreneurship program for high-tech start-ups and their Innovative Talent Training Program for student innovation are both excellent bases to start with.

We could argue that the rudimentary public transportation is still a significant issue. “The first impression of Dongguan is still that the transportation and infrastructure need further enhancement,” Hsieh said.

Overall, Dongguan is a great place for foreigners to thrive, especially in Nancheng, Dongcheng and Songshan Lake with a high-quality lifestyle. You have wide green spaces, delicious and affordable food, and plenty of traditional and modern Chinese attractions.

You’re less likely to experience the high-strung and competitive pressure-cooke renvironments of Shenzhen or Shanghai high-tech work cultures. Depending on where you work and the actual job, chances are you’ll have a tad more relaxed lifestyle.

THE FUTURE

As China and the PRD Greater Bay Area Megacity advance further, the hightech chain integration among all those cities around the delta will only increase, whether it’s a 5G ecosystem, AI, big data, supercomputing, various automation and robot technologies or an internet world of its own. A high-tech enterprise based in Dongguan will soon have seamless access to the whole Greater Bay Area’s resources. If you land a high-tech job in Dongguan, you’ll most likely have high upward mobility both within the city and across the whole megalopolis.

It’s up to Dongguan to grab the best of these opportunities, and not miss the next-generation high-tech gravy train. The location, timing and environment are all in place—we look forward to seeing the city propel further towards the high-tech leadership in China and beyond. You can be a part of that success story too.