The rise of Changsha, capital of Hunan province, has gone almost unnoticed. Yet, its stellar economic growth has already put it on the national map of emerging upstarts tipped to be one of the country’s next batch of top-notch centers. The city, near the birthplace of Mao Zedong, now has ambitions to be an urban center that’s second to none in central China.
As the provincial capital, Changsha is naturally a magnet for Hunan’s shoppers, college graduates and entrepreneurs. It has held the crown of the nation’s happiest city — a ranking compiled by the China Institute of City Competitiveness — for six straight years. Its gross domestic product soared to 715.3 billion yuan (US$114.7 billion) last year, racing 19 places up the national standings in past decade to 16th. The city, home to 7.15 million residents, now has the highest per capita income in central China and is a key regional rail and aviation hub.
What’s behind Changsha’s phenomenal ascent?
The first element was the policy blessing given by then premier Wen Jiabao in 2004 to expedite the development of the central regions under 11th five-year plan. Industrialization and urbanization got special mention and central cities were framed as ideal recipients of the industrial transfer from the country’s coastal areas.
The National Development and Reform Commission gave its nod in 2007 to the proposal to merge Changsha with Zhuzhou and Xiangtan, two neighboring prefectural cities, with a set of tailor-made initiatives.
Industrial investment played a vital role that ensured Changsha’s success in heavy equipment manufacturing, software, and the cultural and creative sectors. Autos, heavy equipment, new materials and the pharmaceutical industry are the city’s four pillar sectors. Sany (600031.CN) and Zoomlion (01157.HK, 600157.CN), the world’s two biggest heavy equipment manufacturers, are both headquartered in the city.
A shining example of this drive is BYD’s electric-bus plant, which took just 14 months to get from signing ceremony to project completion. Among these on offer is large chunks of land, reportedly 4,200 acres, and loan quotas of up to 230 million yuan, thanks to the little push from the city’s party chief Chen Runer and mayor Zhang Jianfei. The Changsha plant now serves as BYD’s major manufacturing base for e-buses.
The writer previously worked for the National People’s Congress’ local committee in the eastern port city of Ningbo and now runs his own business in Changsha.