July 13th, 2012
09:53 AM GMT
Tbilisi, Georgia (CNN) - In marshland off Georgia's Black Sea coast, Georgia’s president plans to build a brand new city – which he wants to call Lazika.
The promotional spiel promises dazzling skyscrapers and a special economic environment to make this the ideal spot, according to the Georgian government, to live and do business. Plus it will house another port - along a coastline teaming with ports - to support Georgia's role as a major hub for international trade.
Georgia owes much of its growth - which was nearly 7% last year - to its strategic location, straddling East and West. As well as being an important transit point for Chinese goods, Georgia is also home to Chinese companies investing directly in various sectors of the economy, from manufacturing to tourism to energy.
In a clearing high in Georgia's Caucasus Mountains, Chinese energy giant Sinohydro has plans to build a $630 million hydro-electric facility.
“This is a very good place for a hydro-electric station and that's why we've decided to invest here,” engineer Yao Jiansong told CNN’s Diana Magnay.
“Sinohydro is famous for building dams all around the world - this is nothing new for us,” he added.
Georgia wants to build 15 new hydroelectric power plants and is courting foreign investors to invest in the sector and double its capacity by 2015.
“Hydro is one of the things that's a big success story recently,” Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told CNN.
“It has been a big success story recently because if you look back at Georgian history this was just another post-Soviet country badly run and without energy resources. A whole generation grew up without having electricity most of the time in winter time.
“So suddenly we discovered that with corruption gone, existing resources could be used more rationally so we already could run enough electricity to make the economy grow.”
Saakashvili's term has seen a marked improvement in his country’s business climate. Georgia ranks 16th out of 183 on the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" survey.
In a boon to the country's image, Donald Trump has committed to investing in a new Trump Tower at the coastal resort of Batumi.
“I've always liked the region,” said Trump. “I just feel the people are very, very industrious, they're very hardworking, they're very smart, they're really good people.”
But there is still business risk. Relations with Russia have been effectively frozen since the 2008 conflict with Georgia; the borders between Georgia and the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still volatile.
Nor is the economy entirely stable. Beyond the glitz of the newly built skyscrapers there is still considerable poverty. Unemployment stands at 16%.
Projects like Lazika say a great deal about how Georgia wishes to present itself, but it's still far from clear where the money to build it will come from and who might eventually live there.
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