Opening Wabash to the world

The top of the Osaka Castle appears above the treeline in Osaka, Japan.

By Joseph Slacian

An exchange student program, contact with the parent company of a local industry and the creation of a sister city for the City of Wabash.

Those are just some of the things to come from a two-week trade mission between representatives of the City of Wabash and officials with cities in Japan and China.

The delegation left in early November and returned shortly before Thanksgiving. It’s first stop was five days in Japan, with the rest of the mission spent in China.

Members of the delegation – Mayor Scott Long, Grow Wabash County Executive Director Keith Gillenwater, Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan, Honeywell Foundation Executive Director Tod Minnich, Bob Mason, The Ford Meter Box Co.’s International Sales Manager, and Lisa Ford – met with members of the media on Tuesday, Nov. 27, to discuss the trip.

“I think moving forward, we’re going to open up Wabash to the world and the world up to Wabash,” Long said. “This is the initial step toward that.”

Sister city program
During the mission, Long and the mayor of Linhai City in China signed a declaration forming a sister city program between the two locations.

“I think the opportunities are endless on all fronts, from arts and culture to education and economic development to the sister city relationship,” Long said.

He noted that he and Linhai City Mayor Mei Shimiao already share a common bond, in that they are both former police officers.

“I found out he had been an officer for six years in China,” Long said. “That kind of knocked the wall down because I had mentioned I was a retired police officer.”

Plans are already underway, the mayor noted, to host a delegation from Linhai City, probably sometime in the spring of 2019.

“We’ll send a written invitation to have a delegation from there to come over next year, and they’re ready to do that,” he said.

Student exchange program

Perhaps the first thing of importance to come out of the trip was the formation of an exchange student program scheduled to kick off in April.

“Our mission is to prepare kids for success in a global community,” Callahan said. “Our kids feel one of our internal strengths is being accepting and welcoming of diversity. One of our weaknesses is that we don’t have a lot of diversity in the community. So this was a great opportunity to develop some of those relationships.”

Wabash City Schools has already been approved to offer an F1 Visa for a full year of study.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to develop relationships internationally prior to this trip,” Callahan said. “I think this trip helped us to do that.

“There’s going to be eight Japanese students coming to us in April. We’ll have the opportunity to send four Wabash High School students to Japan in July. In China, Binhe Middle Scjhool is going to send 20 students to the middle school in August. Those are some of the real outcomes from this trip.

“We hope to just continue to build that and again, on the education level, it’s the goodwill tour, developing a relationship in hosting each other’s kids, bringing over chaperones and hopefully staff as well.”

Visit with Oji officials
During the visit to Japan, the delegation met with Oji Intertech officials. The company has a plant in North Manchester.

“We’ve worked with them the last three years that I’ve been here on two expansions, the most recent one which was announced at the end of the summer,” Gillenwater said.

In that expansion, the company is doubling its footprint in North Manchester, adding 80,000 square feet to the plant, as well as 33 new jobs.

“No one from the community had ever made that trip over to say thank you,” Gillenwater said. “That’s a big deal for Japanese companies. They’ve made an investment that’s been here since the early 2000s, so we went over and gave thanks to them and I have no doubt that we cemented that relationship with them for a long time.”

Mason explained that the Oji plant in North Manchester is just one aspect of what the company does.

“To put it in perspective,” he said, “Oji is a huge company. If you want to put it in size comparable to a company here in the United states, it would be Kimberly Clark. They have their own brand of tissue. They have milk cartons. It’s sitting right in our back yard. There’s a lot of potential investment that could come off of this company. What we see here in Wabash County is just a small portion of what this company can do.”

In addition to thanking the company, the delegation heard about new technologies the company is working on.
“We did our best to try to position the North Manchester facility to be able to be a home for that when they start doing in in the United States,” Gillenwater said. “They’re working on nanofiber technology for coating for paper and those type of things. We’re trying to position ourselves if that comes into production, can we be the U.S. base of operations for those type of things?”

Ford said the visit with Oji officials also did something else.

“It was a positive way to connect with their local management and express with upper management just how valuable their company is in our community,” she said. “I think that was really valuable on all levels.”

She said Rick Sereno, who oversees the local operation “does a terrific job in the Manchester plant” and that the visit was “an opportunity to tell his higher ups just how important and valuable what he does is for us. I think that was appreciated on both ends.”

The arts
Minnich was only on the China leg of the tour. Among the visits he had was with representatives of the Department of Culture and Tourism.

“That department oversees a broad range of activities from their acrobats to their libraries,” he said. “The party has a department within that area, so it was very broad. We had a good discussion and presentation there.”

The department took the delegation to various sites around Linhai.

“They took us to one of the older parts of town,” Minnich said. “When you talk about the older parts of town in China you’re not talking 100 or 200 years old. You’re talking thousands of years old, a thousand or more.”

The delegation also learned about various aspects of the arts in China

“Papercutting is an art form there,” Minnich said “They introduced us to an artist who is famous for this type work over there, so we’re hoping to bring her over. She teaches, so in partnership with Jason and the schools we’d like to bring her over.

“We’ll talk and see what we can do to extend a formal letter of invitation. That’s something we’d like to do pretty immediately, since they would have the way to make the introduction.”

While on the trip, the delegation presented local officials with various artwork created by local artisans, including a painting of the Wabash County Courthouse created by artist Terry Pulley. A replica of a light atop the Courthouse was created by Schlemmer Brothers and presented to the officials from Linhai. Various other gifts also were presented.

The future
Next year, as noted earlier, a delegation from Linhai City is expected to visit Wabash. Long doesn’t expect another delegation to visit Linhai until at least 2020.

“And at that time, there are other organizations I’d like to take,” the mayor said. “I’d like to have someone from the Convention and Visitors Bureau (on the trip) because China’s opening its borders for travel, so there’s an opportunity there.
“We can sell Wabash as the hub with spokes going to Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis. Within 3 ½ or 4 hours you can get to anyone of these cities.”

Posted on 2018 Dec 04