Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), a former foreign minister, might have lost some of his national and international fame after becoming a local leader but he is quite satisfied with his current conditions because he now can employ his diplomatic skills to help his hometown internationalize.
Hu, who won the mayoral election at the end of 2001, has set a goal: to make Taichung an attractive location for investors and tourists from around the world before the end of his term.
"At first, not many of my foreign friends knew anything about Taichung. When I told them I am the mayor of Taichung, they looked me straight in the eye and asked, `Tai-what?'" Hu said in a recent interview with the Taipei Times.
"Now the situation is different. Taichung is getting more and more attention from foreign countries. The key is one of the cultural development projects I am pushing," he said.
The project is to build a subsidiary of the US-based Guggenheim Museum of Modern Arts -- a project that would cost billions of NT dollars, but Hu believes would lure tourists.
"The Solomon Guggenheim Foundation is studying the feasibility of the plan. If it agrees, Taichung will become the first city in the Asia-Pacific region to have a Guggenheim subsidiary," Hu said.
"Our Guggenheim-museum plan wins Taichung a lot of attention from foreign countries. Before this, Taichung was really little known outside of the country," Hu said.
Hu was quite confident of the success of the plan. He outlined a vision for the city after the arrival of the Guggenheim museum.
"We expect that the world's best architects will come to Taichung to design the best buildings for the city. It will lead Taichung to become an international city," Hu said.
"President Chen Shui-bian (
"With a successful museum project, I think Taichung people can move out of the shadow of the Bayer case several years ago. We do need foreign investors. But after Bayer, no big foreign investor has expressed interest," Hu said.
The German Bayer Group's plan to set up a large pharmaceutical factory in the Taichung Harbor region fell though.
Bayer's plan would have been one of the largest in the country. Some local residents lamented the loss of what they say could have been a goose laying the proverbial golden eggs, but many opposed the plant saying it would have been an environmental disaster.
Several years after the Bayer plant was nixed, Hu thinks it is time for Taichung residents to walk out of the shadow and embrace the light.
"I think Taichung people might start to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Hu said.
Hu said that he is committed to promoting business activities in the city.
The third national science-based industrial park, scheduled to start construction in the city at the end of the month, currently keeps Hu quite busy but happy.
"I am very optimistic about the economic development of the city. The science park is, of course, the key," Hu said.
"The science park is 300 hectares in area and can host up to 70 factories. For the moment, all the lots in the park have been occupied, but there are over 300 companies registering for operations there," he said.
"It means there are still over 200 companies unable to get a place in the park. These companies can choose to invest in other parts of the country such as Changhua and Tainan, which have similar investment sites," he said.
"But they choose to invest in Taichung. We are finding places for them outside of the science park. A private industrial park, for instance, is to be built beside the science park. It has room for 20 factories ... All these signs are very encouraging.
"The department-store business in the city is also booming. It grew 8.5 percent over the past year -- five times the national average over the same period.
"Such development complies with my vision of an economic bloc in the central parts of the country. The economic bloc will center around Taichung City, with over 6 million people in the central region using Taichung as their business, cultural and leisure center," Hu said.
Asked about whether he would run for a second term, Hu said he has not made the decision yet.
"I am not the kind of political leader who always thinks about re-election immediately after my first term. If I think like them, I would get nothing accomplished," Hu said.