Building a relationship with a sister city takes time and there won't be any economic impact until that bond is forged, said council members in favour of an upcoming trip to China.
With the exception of Coun. Brian Skakun, city council voted in favour of adding councillors Lyn Hall and Dave Wilbur to an upcoming delegation to Prince George's proposed sister city Jiangmen in late November.
The two cities have been working on a twinning since 2010 and the groundwork for the Prince George-China bond was started years before that.
Coun. Cameron Stolz said he didn't understand a decade ago why former mayor Colin Kinsley was spending time and money going back and forth to Asia.
"One of the things I've come to appreciate is that, in China, things move slowly," Stolz said, noting the long-term picture the foreign partners are looking at is generational. "Unfortunately, there's no glitzy, quick handshake and signature and here's an immediate result for the city. It's something I didn't appreciate before I was elected and it's something I understand now how long things take to develop and evolve and how long after investing that time how much of an investment is returned to the community because of it."
That relationship has to be built between local governments before any business bonds can occur, added Green.
"Until you have the government-to-government solid relationship in place, none of the business things can go on," she said.
Skakun said he couldn't support the voyage due to the optics of spending up to $35,000 to send Mayor Shari Green, the two councillors and acting city manager Kathleen Soltis.
The money for the trip will come from the remainder of a $50,000 provincial grant bestowed to the city for the purpose of establishing a twinning relationship with a city in 2008. If any more funds are needed, the city will dip into its economic development fund.
But Skakun said the timing of the trip couldn't be worse. "We're going through a core review right now, we have people worried about getting adequate fire fighter protection; we have city workers worried about getting laid off; we have non profits and charities worried about getting their tax grant reduced," he said. "I appreciate that we have a relationship with Jiangmen, but the timing is wrong and I won't support it."
Skakun was joined by Coun. Garth Frizzell in opposing Green's recommendation to use city money - via the economic development fund - to fund any remaining costs.
"I don't think there's ever a great time," said Green, adding the city has a need to diversify its economy and that's something that has to occur regardless of what else is going on at city hall.
The relationship with Jiangmen is a long road to a long-term gain, said Wilbur, who the mayor recommended to join the delegation due to his work with the Prince George Airport Authority and knowledge on the city's transportation and logistics sector.
"I've spoken often and passionately about the opportunity it has of creating good paying jobs for our future" said Wilbur. "And because of that I think that if you take a look at the cargo and the tech stops and those things that may create those good paying jobs for our sons and daughters and their children I think it's important that we keep the relationship as a key point going forward."
Stolz and Hall - who Green suggested for the delegation due to his background with education - also stressed that Prince George was lagging behind other communities in terms of drawing international students, which has the potential for giving the city an economic boost, they said.
For example, a twinning between Smiths Falls, Ont., and China's Xiangfan City produced memorandum of understanding between colleges in the two locales.
The education agreement - which would bring 500 Chinese students to the Canadian school - was estimated to produce an economic impact (direct and indirect) of more than $6 million annually through tuition, additional staff wages and the savings to employers who brought international students on as interns.
According to Hall, School District 57, the College of New Caledonia and University of Northern B.C. are highly regarded in China.
"This is huge opportunity and, as Coun. Stolz has said, we haven't tapped into that and we should have," Hall said.