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Leggett heads to China

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Published on: Thursday, September 19, 2013

By Holden Wilen

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is leading a delegation of government and business leaders to China in an effort to build relationships which he hopes will have long-term benefits for the county.

The 93-person delegation left for Shanghai on Sept. 15 and will be in China until Sept. 25. According to the itinerary, the delegation will visit several different locations, including Beijing, the nation’s capital, and Xi’an, Montgomery County’s newest sister city.  

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the main purpose of the trip, at least for the county officials, is to promote economic development in Montgomery.

“We want to try and open some doors for county businesses to either increase or do their business in China. We also want to explore investment opportunities where we can get Chinese investment in high-tech and bio-tech projects in the county,” Lacefield said. “This is something that is very important to us, and that’s why a lot of our focus, if you look at some of the schedule, is in certain places like Pudong and Xi’an and other places which are centers for biotechnology.”

The county is covering the costs for only two people, Lacefield said—Steve Silverman, director of the Department of Economic Development, and Lily Qi, director of special projects in Leggett’s office. The per person cost is $3,000, Lacefield said, and all other county officials, including Leggett and County Councilmen Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner, are paying out of their own pockets.

“This trip is about creating jobs and investments; that is why we are going to China,” Lacefield said. “Anything that we can come back with from there is going to more than account for $6,000 in investment.”

The trip begins in Shanghai, according to the itinerary, and from there the delegation will travel to Pudong. There, the delegation will engage in a business roundtable and visit Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park, an area of research and development in the software and biomedicine industries known as “China’s Silicon Valley.”

Once done in Pudong, the delegation travels to Xi’an, where it will visit another hi-tech park and attend another business roundtable. While in Xi’an, the delegation will also visit Xi’an No.1 Middle School.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendant Joshua Starr is a member of the delegation, along with Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski, and two principals—Joan Benz of Churchill High School and Judy Brubaker of Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School.

“Dr. Benz will be signing a memorandum of understanding with a school in China that will allow for staff and student exchanges,” MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said. “Ms. Brubaker was invited to attend the trip by County Councilman Craig Rice, who could not attend. Her hope is to develop ‘sister school’ partnerships with other schools in China.”

Tofig said no MCPS operating budget or taxpayer dollars are being spent on the trip, though Starr’s and Benz’s expenses are being paid for by the MCPS Educational Foundation, a nonprofit  organization that gives funds to MCPS staff for projects designed to support their programs.

“The MCPS Educational Foundation has money that was raised in the past for a partnership MCPS had with Northern Ireland. The money for that partnership allowed for MCPS staff to travel to Northern Ireland and for MCPS to host people from there,” Tofig said. “That partnership has ended, but there was money available in that account, which is what is being used to cover expenses for this trip.”

Tofig said Smondrowski and Brubaker are covering their own expenses.

Along with business, the delegation will also visit the historical Terra Cotta Warrior Museum in Xi’an.

After Xi’an, the delegation will go to Benxi where it will meet with Chinese government officials and visit the China Medicine Capital Development Project. However, there is also time for fun as the delegation will visit the Benxi water cave.

Councilman Hans Riemer said it has long been a dream of his to go to China, and to travel there while also serving the county is really exciting. By participating in the trip, he hopes to gain a global perspective on economic development and also help position Montgomery County to be competitive regionally, nationally and globally.

“China has a huge health care sector. We are one of the innovation capitals of the world in the health economy,” Riemer said. “If we can get investment partners that help our company grow here then that creates jobs at home. Building relationships in the investment community to help our local companies grow is a very, very important part of this trip.”

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