Alan Barrell

Entrepreneur in Residence Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge


Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise in China’s Construction Industry!

The World is NOT in recession ! In the West, things may be tough, but the World economy has grown 20% as measured by overall GDP in the past few decades. China has grown at almost 10% a year for more years than some can remember. India, Africa, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe, the Middle East. Economies are growing and indeed, the West is “looking better”. Some still speak of crisis – but the optimists see opportunity. It is interesting that both Microsoft and Apple were started up during recessions.

But the World economy is being continuously reshaped and the balance is moving strongly Eastwards and South in terms of power and influence. China is the second largest economy in the World and will become the largest if trends continue. China has 1.35 billion people on board, and in the past two decades alone 440 millions have been lifted out of poverty. Today there are reported to be five times more people in China learning English than the total population of the UK. China is reaching out – in more ways than one – investing in Africa and acquiring Western companies at a growing rate.

China consumes about 60 % of the Worlds coal and even larger proportions of some commodities. Its manufacturing industry is gobbling up raw materials at a frightening pace. But China is also investing more than any other nation in the development of more efficient solar energy technology and products. Today China supplied more than 70% of all solar power products and components and about the same proportion of the World’s batteries.

In China, “Mega Cities” are springing up and more are planned. Urbanisation is moving at a frantic pace. Last year, the city of Chonqing which already had 32 millions inhabitants received a further 400,000 new residents – moving in from the countryside. The “Mega Cities” and the development of “Eco Cities” and “Eco Parks” create enormous opportunities for those engaged in the construction industries to make innovative inputs and make a lot of money too. “Eco-Parks” like the one being developed in Fujian Provinces Xiamen, are wonderful visionary developments. A whole new “city”. Carbon neutral – encompassing R&D – Education – Manufacturing and Residential areas. Massive development – one of a number. The Science Park at Zhonguancun near Beijing covers 200 sq. kilometres – huge by any standards. Probably the largest Science Park in the World.

And China is embracing innovation in construction in a big way. It also needs Western skills and established Western companies – such as Arup – and Foster Architects Group are very active. The wonderful new airports in Beijing and Hong Kong are the finest in the world. Foster Group masterminded the Hong Kong airport development.

Anyone who had the pleasure and privilege to visit Shanghai Expo in 2011 will have been impressed with the boldness and creativity of the whole show – and the wonderful design of the Chinese Pavilion.

For those embarking on careers in the constriction industry I see only great opportunity to be creative, innovative, to contribute to the development of professions. There will be enormous freedom of choice given all the new projects which will be undertaken in the developing world. And in the West too – in Britain’s Olympic year – the construction industries have full order books.

So – look ahead with confidence and ambition – this is a time of Opportunity – not Crisis.

Professor Alan Barrell Cambridge March 2012.