City of opportunity

Invercargill City Council Communications Manager EIRWEN HARRIS MITCHELL spent five weeks in China on a staff exchange with sister city Suqian. She writes about the opportunities she saw for Invercargill.

Suqian offers real opportunities for business, education, sport and cultural co-operation but it will take willingness, commitment and drive from Invercargill people in those sectors, working in conjunction with the City Council. It will also take a willingness to move outside their comfort zone, be open-minded to working with a different culture and learn new things.

I found during my five weeks in Suqian that many of the things I thought I knew about China, from the western media, social media and popular wisdom, were apocryphal. Chinese people I found to be friendly, generous and with a great sense of humour.

The opportunities are there but Invercargill people have to want to take them. On 28 September 2017 Suqian hosted a business conference of 800 people from China and 100 from countries around the world, who do want to do business with our sister city of 5.8 million people.

Suqian wants to do business and co-operate with Invercargill in education, sport, culture and environmental practices. The tone was set right from the first day the Invercargill City Council delegation, including Chamber of Commerce President Carla Forbes and Venture Southland Chief Executive Paul Casson, spent three hours in talks with the Suqian’s leaders.

Suqian Mayor Wang is positioning Suqian to be a model city for the quality of life for its citizens and the cleanliness of its environment. The progress of this clean, tree-lined city with its wide boulevards and expansive parks, in the 20 years since its formation has been remarkable. It has won many business and environmental awards in China – and recognition from publications including The Economist.

China admires New Zealand’s quality of life and environment and is actively working to achieve the same there. With its commitment to trees and parks, Suqian is the only city in the Jiangsu province of 80 million people to be free from acid rain. It explains their desire for reciprocal gardens in Suqian and Invercargill – and the great value they place on them.

Mayor Wang wants to rapidly progress opportunities between our two cities; and the talks concluded
with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Suqian, Invercargill City Council, Southland Chamber of Commerce and Venture Southland.

Areas for investigation include:
• Exports to Suqian of beef and sheep meat
• Dairy products
• Seafood
• Wood
• Wool
• Sustainable farming and environmental practices
• Business delegations
• Medical exchanges
• Education
• Sport and cultural exchanges
• Tourism.

Since the delegation’s return to Invercargill, work has continued on:

Invercargill has begun promoting Suqian’s Eco-Quadrathlon, a multi-sport, endurance race in early September. New Zealand teams regularly compete and win in this race, which has generous prize money.

Invercargill Rugby Coach Kaleni Taetuli continues to work in Suqian, coaching his team and looking to develop rugby in Jiangsu Province. He is also working to organise rugby exchanges between our two cities, while in Invercargill Cr Alex Crackett has been working with Rugby Southland’s Andrew Moreton on this.

Invercargill City Council, Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) and Venture Southland are working on various initiatives with Suqian College (Suqian University).These involve recruitment of an English teacher to be based in Suqian, staff and student exchanges, and assisting individual students with introductions and contacts.

SIT will have a senior staff member travel to Suqian in October to meet representatives of Suqian College and City Hall.

I was invited to give a lecture on New Zealand and Invercargill’s culture and lifestyle to 200 students at the university; and led two English classes. The Chinese education system combines not only academic but practical leaning.

Council is also working on Mayor Wang’s offer to provide an English language teacher to teach Mandarin in Invercargill – and whether that is something our education stakeholders would welcome.

Business and agriculture

Talks are continuing to identify specific opportunities and make contacts for business co-operation and agricultural exports.

Economic development and tourism
This is one of the areas covered in the MOU and is essential. Suqian is keen for business partnerships and co-operation. Council can make the introductions, but it cannot take the lead on this. It is up to business people and support organisations. Venture Southland and the Southland Chamber of Commerce have pledged their support.

While China is a rapidly developing society, it deeply cherishes its culture. The Suqian Painting Institute is home to one of the first-level artists in China. Invercargill also has talented artists and cultural exchanges would be beneficial to both cities.

During my time in China weeks I have seen enough to convince me that China is a land of potential opportunity for Invercargill.

It will take commitment – and not just from our City Council – the Council can only do so much. It will take the commitment of business people, education specialists, sporting representatives, cultural institutions and the commitment of our citizens, to work together as Team Invercargill to take advantage of the opportunity offered to us by Suqian.