2013-12-12 / Community

Chinese delegation to visit T.O. in February

Group will make first Conejo trip
By Anna Bitong

CULTURE SWAP—Qingdao, China, Thousand Oaks’ sister city, will send a delegation to T.O. next year. CULTURE SWAP—Qingdao, China, Thousand Oaks’ sister city, will send a delegation to T.O. next year. A delegation from Thousand Oaks’ sister city in China is expected to make its first visit to the Conejo Valley in February.

A slew of activities is being planned for their arrival and for future collaborations with the people of Shibei District in Qingdao, said Rosemary Licata, co-president of the Sister City Committee with Debby Chang, a professor of Chinese language and culture at Cal Lutheran University.

The pair have formed a 37-person committee that includes many leaders in the community as well as representatives of large companies with a local presence to participate in planning and hosting events for the Chinese delegates.

Among the members: Councilmember Claudia Bill-de la Peña, Thousand Oaks Police Chief Randy Pentis, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten, Conejo Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Baarstad, Cal Lutheran University President Chris Kimball, Los Robles Medical Center CEO Greg Angle and Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce President Jill Lederer.

“All the people that I asked (to join) said yes immediately,” said Licata, a noted organizer and head of Thousand Oaks Republican Women Federated.

The committee is planning student exchanges and forums hosted by the D.A.’s office, CVUSD, Los Robles and other organizations through which Qingdao representatives can learn how the city is run. Thousand Oaks had previously adopted Spitak in Armenia as its sister city between 1994 and 2000, but the relationship ended because of the diminished involvement of the community.

Bill-de la Peña said that Cal Lutheran University already has some exchange students from China.

“This is something we want to nurture, this exchange relationship with China,” the council member said. “We have a large Asian population in Thousand Oaks. Many of the scientists at our local biotech companies are from China. It makes perfect sense to have a sister relationship with a city in China that is similar to Thousand Oaks.”

Committee member Michael Cohen, an entrepreneur who has done business in China and took his first trip there in 1999, said the goal is to host “mini summits” in multiple industries.

“That’s going to be the longterm goal,” the T.O. resident said. “As the world grows and changes and information gets exchanged, this becomes a real vehicle to channel it to this community.”

For their first visit, the Chinese delegation—which will include the mayor of the Shibei District, the directors of the Bureau of Tourism and of the Bureau of Economic Development, and the deputy chief of staff for the Department of Commerce— will attend a luncheon open to the public at Sherwood Country Club, where the mayors of both cities will sign documents declaring their relationship. Licata said the delegates have asked to see businesses and senior residential and healthcare facilities during their stay.

Cohen said that because of China’s long-standing one-child policy “you have all these parents and grandparents, but there’s only one child to take care of this whole family. They know that we have really good healthcare and very good senior care.”

Forming relationships with government officials and business people in China will help the growth of businesses in Thousand Oaks, Cohen said.

Chang said that Qingdao was chosen at the suggestion of Tony Li, head of International Business Development for Baheal Pharmaceutical Group in Westlake Village, which also operates in Qingdao. Baheal president Fu Gang serves on the Sister City Committee.

Licata described Qingdao as an up-and-coming coastal city with two universities and pharmaceutical and tire industries, among others. The international port city already has 24 sister city relationships around the world, including with Long Beach and Miami.

“Creating these relationships with them will make it easier for us to do business and do exports from the U.S. to China,” Cohen said. “We’re trying to bring more business back to America.”

The business ties will also “make people in this area more aware of the possibility of doing more business overseas,” he said.

“We also want to build awareness for the community here to show them that it’s possible to do business outside of this country, meaning bringing money back into the country by shipping our products out,” he said.

Several local businesses are represented by members of the Sister City Committee, including Citibank, Silver Star Motors, Amgen, Baxter and Crunchies Food Company.

“(The businesses) can all envision some business with China,” said Cohen, who is writing letters to local companies asking for sponsorships for the sister city endeavor.

In a letter to the mayor of the Chinese city, Bill-de la Peña expressed hope for a long-term relationship between Thousand Oaks and Qingdao.

“We share many similarities and look forward to the exchange of ideas and furthering both our cities economically and socially,” she wrote in the letter, which was needed to obtain travel visas to the United States.

Cohen said that outreach should extend to Asians in Thousand Oaks.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 3,794 people of Chinese descent living in Thousand Oaks, up from 2,466 in 2000.

“It’s a growing community,” he said. “I think the community needs to embrace that, and we need to have some exchanges within our own community.”

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