Life where the outbreak began

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Jim Croop with students in China.

Since late January, Jim Croop has been living on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The longtime Rochesterian, managing director of Bay Colony Capital, now lives and works in Guangzhou, China. He grew up in Pittsford, graduating from Pittsford-Sutherland High School. After finishing a BA at St. John Fisher College, he worked for ARA Services at the Rochester, Dubuque and Madison, Wisconsin airports, before returning to Rochester. 

After 14 years at the Center for Governmental Research and completing an MBA at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, he’d risen to chief financial officer. He moved into business consulting and investment banking in 2002, forming Bay Colony Capital in 2008. He has two children. Daughter Kim lives in Rochester and son Benton lives in Alaska.

The Beacon interviewed Croop by email about his experience in China since the coronavirus outbreak.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How long have you been in Guangzhou, Jim? 

JIM CROOP: My company, Bay Colony Capital, helps small to medium size companies who are interested either in selling to China or in locating, sourcing and negotiating manufacturing in China. As trade relations between China and the U.S. have been pretty crazy in the last few years, I took a position teaching English at Peizheng University in Guangzhou, in China’s Guangdong Province. Not only does it pay some bills, but it helps me improve my own language skills and become more familiar with the Chinese culture. 

BEACON: How has the virus affected people living in Guangzhou?

CROOP: Guangdong Province had the second most infections outside of Hubei. 

I came back to Rochester for a visit on Jan. 1, then returned to China on Jan. 25. The tight restrictions kicked in right after I got back. With the exception of supermarkets and some pharmacies, everything closed. From February to the beginning of March, people were asked not to gather in groups of more than three. 

People took this very seriously without any obvious signs of enforcement. The overwhelming vast majority of Chinese complied and stayed home. Three weeks ago I could take a bus (after the driver checked my temperature) to go to the supermarket. I would be the only person on the bus and the bus might be one of only a couple of vehicles on the road. At the supermarket there was another temperature check to get in and I had to provide my name and phone number. Towns were empty of people and cars. 

McDonalds and KFC stayed open by letting people stand outside, order using an app on their phone and then bringing the food out. No one could go in a restaurant.

BEACON: How have things changed recently?

CROOP: In the last week or so, things have opened up a lot. We still are required to wear masks and get temps checked on public transportation and on entering most businesses.  Most businesses have reopened. You can sit inside restaurants and traffic has returned. Schools in Guangzhou remain closed, but we are anticipating they will open in April. 

The economy has certainly taken a big hit. Small retailers that were struggling already due to online shopping took it hardest. Many will never reopen.  Travel to China is banned from many countries now. 

BEACON: Were you urged to return to the U.S.?

CROOP: There was never any pressure from China to leave. Many of my USA friends thought every American was being evacuated, but it only applied to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus in China.

There are about 12 foreign teachers here at the college now. Another 20 are outside China and just now we have been given word that they will not be allowed to come back for the current semester.

BEACON: How have you been coping?

CROOP: During the lockdown I kept in touch using WeChat (a Chinese messaging and online payments platform), Facebook and Skype. And I spent a fair amount of time on my online Chinese language lessons.

BEACON: From your perspective, did the shutdown work?

CROOP: It appears that all new cases are coming from travelers to China. It would appear that shutting the country down did work. (But) no one is claiming total victory yet.

Kent Gardner is Rochester Beacon opinion editor. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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