Wuhan: the star of Central China

September 3, 2012 / By

Wuhan is receiving a growing amount of attention as a city that is in the process of “lift off”. In the China 50 report earlier this year, Wuhan was given the well-deserved classification of a Tier 1.5 city, due to its sheer magnitude. While Chengdu is now regarded as the regional centre of West China, Wuhan is growing into the same role in Central China. The city sits at the crossroads of some of China’s most important transportation arteries. Unique among Chinese cities, Wuhan is composed of three once independent towns called Hankou, Wuchang, and Hanyang, which were united to form the Wuhan metropolis in 1927. The current leadership is presiding over an infrastructure boom that is massive even by Chinese standards and will interlace the city with subways and new roads and expressways.

Among the two largest companies in Wuhan, one produces steel, and the other produces cars. Wuhan’s heavy industry background continues to be its strength. The city’s state-owned giants have partnered with foreign carmakers such as Citroen and Nissan. Wuhan competes with several other cities for the status of the “Detroit of China”, but Wuhan is about more than cars. Wuhan also has aspirations in the technology and service sectors, which are bolstered by one of the largest concentrations of universities and students in China. The city’s 82 institutions of higher learning are second only to Beijing, and help make Wuhan’s workforce one of China’s best-educated yet low cost.

By the end of 2011, 83 Fortune 500 companies had established a presence in Wuhan, and over 5,000 multinational corporations have invested in Wuhan a total contracted value of more than USD 23 billion. Such enterprises supply 20% of the tax revenue of the city. Over the past two years, Wuhan’s development into the economic heart of Central China has combined with rapid growth in the city’s tertiary sector to attract more firms seeking to establish Central China headquarters. In the last twelve months, Grade A office rents in the city increased 30% — the fastest increase anywhere in China other than Beijing.

During our recent semi-annual fieldwork in the city, we found that new projects seem to sprout up by the dozen over a vast urban area. Wuhan has roughly double the number of retail projects of a Tier II city such as Changsha in order to serve the rapidly growing consumer class. One notable feature of the city is the prevalence of open-air shopping centres, which claim a third of the total retail stock. Known as one of China’s “Four Furnaces” in summer and for its cold, wet winters, Wuhan at first glance does not appear favourable to outdoor shopping. Regardless of the format, Wuhan is a retail market that is far from saturation.

Wuhan will be profiled in extensive detail in our upcoming 2012 edition of the Wuhan city profile, slated for release later this year.

Also, in response to growing demand for basic information from a retail perspective, we are going to launch a booklet of 20 one-page city profiles under the banner Retail Intelligence.


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