Wu Jiwen, vice-mayor for the city of Jining, China, led a nine-member delegation in extending an invitation to Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders and the Board of Directors Wednesday night (Oct. 3) during the opening of a photography exhibit showcasing the Chinese city at the Fort Smith Convention Center (FSCC).
The photo exhibit will run through Friday (Oct. 5) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The event was proceeded by a gift exchange meeting between the Jining Delegation and Fort Smith Board of Directors, and closed with a ribbon unification ceremony symbolizing a “memorandum of understanding” that Jining and Fort Smith will be known as “friendship cities” moving forward.
During Wu’s Wednesday address to city leaders and residents, the vice-mayor touted Jining’s 7,000-year history, its status as the hometown of the globally recognized philosopher Confucius and, in more modern terms, as a city of industry, “where 39 of the top 500 companies in the world have invested.”
Jining’s reputation for mining and manufacturing are known well beyond its 8.47 million population, and Sanders is hoping that this “first step in the relationship” between the two cities will lead to economic development for Fort Smith.
“We feel very fortunate that they are interested in the community of Fort Smith,”
Sanders said after the event. “They come from an 8.4 million population. We’ve got 86,000. But we have similarities in what we are talking with them about in the caliber and talent of our workforce, the infrastructure we have, the technology we have available. And the hope is that they will go back to companies that they have in Jining who may be interested in investing in the U.S. or who want to explore that further, that they know they have contacts here and that we have a lot to offer them.”
Wu spoke in equally hopeful terms following the event.
“The deepest impression for me to Fort Smith are the hospitable people here. They are so warm, so kind, and everyone here is so sincere, so true,” Wu said. “I love Fort Smith very much. They have made us feel very warm here and not as a city 1,000 miles away, and it is my hope we can work together.”
Wu welcomed Sanders and City Directors to visit Jining, a trip that Sanders admits is “worth looking at.”
“We’re certainly interested in the potential for economic development, and if something like that would come forward as a result of that, we would certainly have to take a hard look at it,” Sanders said. “It’s something that we would really need to look at from a financial standpoint, but if it has the potential for developing some jobs here, getting some investment here, then it very well could be worth the trip.”
The Jining delegation will leave Fort Smith on Thursday (Oct. 4) at noon, and will visit Washington D.C., New York, Toronto and Vancouver during the rest of its “four-to-five day trip.”
Sanders intends to use Thursday morning as an opportunity to “show off a lot of the things that are Fort Smith. Our companies that are here, a lot of the amenities that we have, the hospitals, UA-Fort Smith, the library system, our schools. It’ll be a quick trip, but this is our opportunity to put that information forward to them,” Sanders said.