sunderland.jpgSunderland, a small city in the northeast of England, if it is known to outsiders at all, is best know for its Nissan car plant than it is for its fledgling software industry.

But Sunderland has high hopes that a recent trade mission to China will help cultivate new trade links with the PRC and so modernise the city's image which for many years was linked with industries like coal mining and shipbuilding in terminal decline.

The trade mission visited Harbin and Nanjing, both major economic centres with populations of 10m and 6m respectively. Sunderland by contrast has a population of less than 200,000.

Nevertheless, Sunderland feels it has a lot to offer these Chinese cities, particularly on the hi-tech front, so the delegation included the chief executive of Sunderland Software City, a new initiative designed to encourage the growth of a software industry in the Sunderland region.

In Harbin, the SSC's chief executive signed the obligatory letter of intent with Harbin Information Industry Bureau which commits the two parties to explore potential opportunities for co-operation.

But what form might such cooperation take?

Well, the SSC talks about opportunities in “localising” Chinese software — I'm assuming that means translating it into regular English rather than the thick Geordie dialect. And then there might be complementary opportunities for Chinese companies to localise software developed by SSC companies for the Chinese market. But no details were forthcoming.

The delegation then move onto Nanjing, which in a short time has built a sizable software industry based around the the Nanjing Software Park. Much like Sunderland, Nanjing is a city that has shaken off its manufacturing past to focus on services, but the results are far more tangible than in the case of Sunderland.

Today, Nanjing has 45 software companies with revenues of more 100m yuan and over 120 smaller software houses with revenues over 10m yuan. As well as familiar Chinese names like Neusoft, ZTE and Huawei Technologies, a sizable number of western multinationals have established software R&D centres in Nanjing, including Ericsson, Oracle, IBM SAP, HP, and Motorola and Siemens.

Nanjing clearly operates in a different league to Sunderland when it comes to software.

So what did the Sunderland hi-tech delegation gain from its trip to Nanjing? Nothing more tangible than a memorandum of understanding and a certain “confidence” that Sunderland and Nanjing could build a “close working relationship for the mutual benefit of both cities”. Close, but no cigar.

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