So why is Cranbrook going to Wonju and Taicang?
A fair question, and one that I have wrestled with over the last few months. To find the answer we need to go back a ways.
In spring 2008 the City agreed, with financial support from the province, to pursue the development of an Asia Pacific twinning opportunity. Unlike traditional sister city or friendship relationships, the focus is on building long-term relationships that will generate new investment opportunities for selected communities in B.C.
Asia has become a major global economic driver and is increasingly important to our future. Over 50 per cent of the coal produced in the Elk Valley is bound for Asia and the Skookumchuck pulp mill is now owned by the China-based “Paper Excellence” company. Provincially while B.C. exports to the U.S. are decreasing, exports to Asia are increasing substantially.
Although the City agreed to take on the role as a regional centre for this part of B.C., due to local priorities substantial work on this initiative didn’t begin until late 2010 with the commencement of market opportunity research and candidate community identification.
In 2011, a consultant with Asia expertise was retained to undertake the initial scouting exercise to identify potential twinning communities. In the same year Cranbrook city staff participated in a trade delegation to Asia (specifically Beijing and Seoul) to assess demand for resources available in our region, particularly biomass, to develop local contacts in Asia with the B.C. and Canada trade representatives, and to get a better understanding on the protocols and cultural subtleties of working with officials in China and Korea.
Based on the research in 2011, Cranbrook took the next step to developing formal ties to Asia with a small delegation from the City making the first formal introductions to Taicang, China and Wonju, South Korea in February, 2012. These two communities were identified as having the strongest economic twinning potential for Cranbrook and the region.
During the February 2012 visit a Letter of Understanding to explore economic opportunities was signed with Taicang, and in August of 2012 Cranbrook hosted a senior delegation of five municipal officials from Wonju, South Korea. We are expecting a visit from senior city officials from Taicang, China in the fall of 2013.
The upcoming visit is intended to strengthen the relationship between Cranbrook and these two Asia Pacific communities and to explore in more detail the economic opportunities that may be realized.
The visit to Taicang is geared towards natural resource exports from the region, opportunities for post-secondary training through the College of the Rockies (COTR), and in-bound tourism to the Kootenays.
In Wonju, the focus will be on education and tourism to start with as well as us learning more about their alternative energy solutions and use of solar energy.
As I said earlier I struggled with “is this a good investment of Cranbrook citizen’s tax dollars?” The cost estimate is around $10,500 total for Councillor Diana J. Scott, Economic Development Officer Kevin Weaver, and me for airfare as once we are over there the host cities pick up the majority of our costs.
I asked representatives of the Province of BC’s Economic Development Division both locally and in Victoria if we should do this. Their response was yes — this endeavour is a great opportunity for Cranbrook and the region, and to realize the benefits you must commit to maintaining and solidifying the relationships. Mayors and Councillors are extremely important in Chinese and Korean cultures and are key to making this initiative work.
My approach then became to do whatever we could to make it a trade and investment initiative. We have invited other East Kootenay mayors, the College of the Rockies, Teck Coal and Canfor representatives to accompany us. I have asked a businessman who spends a fair bit of time in China selling B.C. wood to provide a list of important people to visit in Taicang. I have also requested material from the Ktunaxa First Nation and Kootenay Rockies Tourism to provide material that we can use to encourage more visitation to our region from China and South Korea, which are both areas of growth for visits to B.C.
While I very much value the twinning of Cranbrook with these cities in Asia I also want to see some new business come out of it. Developing trust and a sense of mutual respect is key to making it happen.
Will we have a successful trip? I’ll let you know. We leave on June 17 and return on June 27 after spending three days in Taicang, four in Wonju and three days travelling.
I’ll follow up with you upon our return.
Wayne Stetski is Mayor of Cranbrook