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Members of a recent trade mission to China say they made important progress toward strengthening business and academic ties with the economic giant.
The nine-member delegation, which departed Tallahassee Oct. 25 and returned six days later, included Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, his chief of staff Rick Minor, local business people and officials from Florida State University and Florida A&M University.http://bingenergyinc.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/more_bug.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: 100% 0%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">The delegation met with business leaders and officials in Rugao, China, Tallahassee’s newest sister city and one of China’s fastest-growing economic regions, to explore business opportunities and academic partnerships. They toured factories and businesses, visited schools and universities and cemented the sister-city relationship with Rugao during a signing ceremony.
Dean Minardi, chief financial officer for Bing Energy International, Inc., said the trade mission was important in allowing Chinese officials to get to know local officials through face-to-face interactions. Bing has a plant in Rugao and another in Tallahassee that manufacture parts for hydrogen fuel cells, a clean, renewable source of energy.
“The most important thing is the Chinese invest in people they know,” Minardi said. “They want to see the faces. They want to know the people and break bread, have meals with you. And it’s only after you’ve done that that you can enter into any discussions of substance.”
City officials say no city money was used for travel expenses. The city of Rugao covered about 95 percent of the expenses, while the sister-city program paid for the rest, Minardi said. The only city money used went toward a frame and photos of a canopy road and Maclay Gardens, which were given to Chinese officials, Minor said. The cost was about $140.
City commissioners were briefed on the trip during their meeting Wednesday. Marks said he was proud of the city’s association with Rugao, and he praised Bing Energy, which was instrumental in forging the sister-city relationship.
“Their work in utilizing Florida State University’s ground-breaking nanotechnology research for hydrogen fuel-cell production in both Rugao and Tallahassee is an outstanding example of what our two cities can do together,” Marks said.
Local officials said they developed or expanded opportunities for Tallahassee businesses including PortStar, Danfoss Turbocor and BEC Industries LLC. And they agreed to partner with Rugao officials on renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, research and engineering and information technology. They also committed to explore the creation of a science and technology research park to help grow high-tech startups.
“They are very interested in how we have connected our (research and development) sector with our business sector and created opportunities like Bing,” said Beth Kirkland, executive director of the Tallahassee/Leon County Economic Development Council.
John Collier, interim dean of the FSU/FAMU College of Engineering, said talks have begun on starting a “3-2” program between the college and Jiangsu University in which Chinese students would spend three years at their home university before traveling to Tallahassee to study for two more years, earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in engineering. He also said Tallahassee students could travel to China to take part in special programs.
“It’s critical for our engineering students to learn about the Chinese culture, particularly relating to engineering, because their economy is coming up very strongly and our students will be working with international companies or companies that are dealing with international companies,” Collier said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Marks must disclose what was spent to cover his expenses under the state’s gift law, which applies to elected officials and some appointed officials and public employees. Those who must report under the law have to disclose gifts over $100, although there are several exceptions, including one involving organizations that promote the exchange of ideas between government officials.
Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Ethics, said the commission hasn’t issued rulings involving gifts from sister-city programs since the gift law went into effect in 1991. There are also no recent rulings involving foreign governments.