Local members of delegation awed by China's economic boom

WILLMAR -- Local delegates on a recent Minnesota trade mission to the People's Republic of China are using words like "amazing" and "incredible" to describe the experience.

WILLMAR -- Local delegates on a recent Minnesota trade mission to the People's Republic of China are using words like "amazing" and "incredible" to describe the experience.

Barely a week after returning home, they're also already looking at how the local area might benefit from stronger ties between Minnesota and China.

"It was just a remarkable trip and a remarkable experience. I do feel very honored and privileged to be part of the trade mission group," said Kathy Leedom, superintendent of the Willmar Public Schools.

More than 200 Minnesotans, led by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, spent seven days in China earlier this month to explore trade opportunities in one of the world's fastest growing economies. China is Minnesota's fourth largest trading partner.

Leedom was part of an education delegation. Traveling with an agriculture delegation were Jamie Duininck of Prinsburg and Myron Behm of Atwater. Duininck works for Prinsco, which manufactures high-density plastic pipe for agriculture and storm sewer drainage. Behm is the owner of Behm Seed Co., a seed conditioning business that packages soybean seed and food-grade soybeans and exports non-genetically modified seed.


All three said they were struck by the economic boom they saw in China.

"To see what's happening with expansion and building is just mind-boggling," Duininck said. "Just driving from the airport to the hotel in Shanghai, there's probably 30 new skyscrapers going up."

"I was just mesmerized at the building that was going on -- the construction, the cranes," Behm said.

They also were impressed with the warm welcome the trade delegation received.

Leedom said their hosts were "very open and friendly people."

The ties that already exist between Minnesota and China showed up in unexpected ways. For instance, during a question-andanswer session with a group of eight government ministers, three of them had attended the University of Minnesota.

During a tour of a grocery store, Duininck spotted a Hormel turkey on a shelf.

"I think China has a better relationship with Minnesota than with the U.S. as a whole," Behm said. "We seemed to be accepted with open arms. I was just really impressed."


The delegation had an intense schedule of meetings, tours and receptions -- 93 events in all -- during the visit, which included Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The group also managed to do some sightseeing at the Great Wall and at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the Chinese capital.

Some of the ties that were established might have a direct effect on Kandiyohi County.

Behm represented the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission at a meeting in Shanghai, held to explore a joint venture in developing methane digestion as a renewable energy source.

At the meeting, the Minnesota delegation received a signed memorandum of understanding that the Chinese will cooperate in the project, as long as Kandiyohi County can obtain funding.

The agreement is an important step for the Economic Development Commission, Behm said. "We're going forth with the project."

Leedom said she returned to the United States with a greater sense of urgency about the need to give Willmar students a global perspective.

"The world is becoming smaller. We need to spend more time preparing our students to become responsible world citizens," she said.

The education delegation is already looking for ways to introduce China into school curriculums, she said. "I believe we need to be teaching about the Chinese culture. The study of culture and the study of language are needed in order for economic partnerships to be formed."


Student exchanges are another possibility. The delegation also spent time discussing how the University of Minnesota might help provide a pipeline of Chinese teachers to Minnesota.

"We definitely want to have a concrete impact on our schools as a result of the trip," Leedom said.

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