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Archive for Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sister county idea shelved, for now

February 28, 2006

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Citing a lack of "fire in the belly" for spending money to establish a sister county program with China, Douglas County commissioners Monday took no action on the proposal.

At the same time, Commissioners Bob Johnson, Jere McElhaney and Charles Jones said they were open to discussing the idea again if substantive economic benefits could be identified.

"I don't know how successful this would be," Jones said. "Who has the fire in the belly for this?"

The sister county idea was proposed in a letter to commissioners several weeks ago from Cal Downs, a retired KU professor and business consultant to China. A panel of individuals from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Center of East Asian Studies at Kansas University and the Kansas State Extension office in Douglas County prepared a list of pros and cons on the issue and presented them to commissioners.

Funding a sister county program would probably involve up to $10,000 per year by the county, panelists said.

Johnson said the county needed to see more of a local economic benefit from the program if commissioners were to support it.

A sister county program probably wouldn't bring immediate economic benefits, said John Watson, trade development division director with the Kansas Department of Commerce, who also was on the panel.

"It's more long-term bridge building," Watson said.

Watson also said Kansas had a trade office open in China, and the country was one of the state's top international trade partners.

Watson and others on the panel, including Lavern Squier, the chamber's chief executive, said China was a growing economic power and would continue to be a major world economic player.

Squier noted that companies such as Berry Plastics, which is the parent company to the local Packerware Corp., had facilities in China. The chamber plans to provide local businesses with information about China, he said.

"We may expose our companies to more pathways (in China)," Squier said of the sister county idea.

Bill Tsutsui, a KU professor of history involved in efforts to obtain a Chinese cultural and language center, said a key aspect of the sister county program would be "getting America's message out. China cares a lot about us."

Commissioners said they thought the same goals a sister county program would have could be sought by businesses and organizations without the county taking the initiative.

"I don't want to shut the door, but I just don't see us initiating this," Jones said.

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