Bluffton resident Ed Modzelewski was at a Shanghai boat show this year when a team of Chinese property developers approached him and his business partners.
They had recently acquired a large parcel of coastal property south of Shanghai and wanted to develop an ecologically responsible resort community -- a rarity in China.
Where, the group asked, could they find a model for such a community?
"We couldn't think of a better place than our own backyard," said Modzelewski, chairman of Applied Technology and Management Inc., a coastal consulting firm with offices on Hilton Head Island and in Charleston.
The Chinese developers agreed to visit, he said, although "they'd never heard of this area before."
Modzelewski welcomed the five-person delegation from Vanion Group to the Lowcountry on Tuesday afternoon, taking them first to Harbour Town in Sea Pines.
The community, he explained, is a small-scale version of what they hope to build along a 22-mile stretch of the Pacific coast named Amazing Bay.
"There's a movement in China to accommodate a growing middle class with resort and leisure experiences," he said. "Marine and water sports could become an important part of their economy."
The group also will visit Palmetto Bluff, Shelter Cove and Windmill Harbour, he said, before leaving Thursday.
"They want to adopt the highest environmental standards," Modzelewski said. "This is one of their first coastal ventures, and they want to learn about our clean marina strategies."
Nancy Cappelmann, harbormaster at Harbour Town, said it's rare to field such requests from international contingents.
"They'll look at our facilities and the yacht basin," Cappelmann said shortly before the group's arrival. "I just hope I'm able to talk to them," she added with a laugh.
After the tour, Vanion Group head representative David Zhidong Li praised what he saw.
"It seems like an ideal example of sustainable development," he said. "It is very impressive and has left a deep impression."
Li added that such development practices are slowly gaining traction in his homeland.
"Environmental protection is becoming more of a priority for the Chinese government in the past several years," he said, adding that he's already inspired by what he has seen.
"Harbour Town, with its nightly shows, music and different aspects in one marina, gives us more ideas."