City awaits results from China trip

Despite little to show from earlier trips to China by elected officials and bureaucrats, the City of Prince George spent nearly $8,000 to send city manager Kathleen Soltis and economic developer manager Melissa Barcellos to a business conference in Hong Kong in November 2018.

While there have been no concrete benefits announced yet as a result of attending the Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference last fall, Soltis and Barcellos went "with the purpose of promoting Prince George as a location for an e-commerce distribution centre within the Prince George Foreign Trade Zone recently designated by the federal government," wrote the city's senior communications officer, Michael Kellett, in an email to The Citizen.

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Soltis and Barcellos met with seven companies and 12 individuals to discuss business opportunities in Prince George. They also met with two trade commissioners, including the senior trade commissioner from the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong, a potential investor in a data centre recommended by the B.C. government's International Trade and Investment Office and representatives from CN Rail also attending the conference.

Soltis and Barcellos were invited to attend the conference by Prince George Airport Authority president and CEO John Gibson.

"They know the city's development plans and specific investor information about the city that the airport does not know in detail," he said in an email to The Citizen. "At this time, there is not an outcome that we can share publicly, as continuing discussions with proponents is extremely confidential."

There have been discussions and memorandums of understanding signed with Chinese officials in the recent past.

As the acting city manager in 2012, Soltis joined a city delegation to Jiangmen with Mayor Shari Green, then city councillor and now mayor Lyn Hall, city councillor Dave Wilbur and Heather Oland, the CEO of the now-defunct Initiatives Prince George.

At the time, city councillor Brian Skakun opposed the trip, due to its $35,000 price tag, in the middle of a core review of city operations and expenses.

Green, Oland and city manager Beth James returned to Jiangmen the following year.

Despite these trips, a 2010 visit to Jiangmen by Mayor Dan Rogers and city councillors Garth Frizzell and Don Bassermann, as well as two visits to Prince George by Chinese delegations, there has yet to be a formal sister city accord signed by Jiangmen.

In 2015, Mayor Lyn Hall signed a memorandum of understanding with visiting representatives from Suzhou City to form closer business and cultural ties, as well as pursue sister city status, but there have been no further developments announced.

Later in 2015, Soltis and Barcellos, as well as representatives from the Prince George airport, went to China as part of a provincial trade mission led by Premier Christy Clark.

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