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Griffith Shire Council – building a road to China

The councils of many Australian cities maintain sister city relationships. Mostly these relationships encourage school children to experience the culture of another city.

However, one city, Griffith in south-west NSW, is also using its relationship with Chinese city Harbin to develop opportunities for local businesses.

"Like most sister city relationships, our relationship with Harbin is helping local school children to better understand the Chinese culture," says Stephen Joyce, economic development manager with the council.

"But because the China economy is growing so quickly, we also wanted to use the relationship to help our local businesses."

China can be a daunting market to enter. Through the program the council has developed with the Harbin local government, businesses are introduced to local business people as well as government officials.

"China can be intimidating, but our businesses say they feel more confident and secure approaching it through this program," says Joyce.

"Already we have seen successful business transactions either with people from Harbin or their contacts also in China. And businesses here have been approached by Chinese parties interested in investing."

The council received assistance to set up the program from Sara Cheng, client manager with Australian Business International Trade Services.

"When the deputy mayor came to visit to discuss the potential relationship we just thought we needed the help of a translator," says Joyce. "But Sara brought so much more.

"Being from China herself, Sara had an affinity with the people, and could relate to them very quickly. She understood their culture and was able to read their body language.

"The Chinese delegation was also appreciative of Sara’s efforts because it helped them communicate what they wanted. We were quickly able to build a mutually beneficial relationship because of her assistance.

"Sara still helps us organise business matching sessions, and gave us a wealth of information before we travelled to Harbin which meant we got a lot more out of the visit."

As the success of the program grows, so too does the number of businesses wanting to get involved. This year the council organised a delegation of local businesses to travel to the Harbin Trade Fair and meet with potential Chinese business partners.

Joyce believes that to take a sister city relationship beyond cultural activities, there must be a fit between the two countries. "The relationship must be relevant," says Joyce.

"Harbin approached us as well as other cities in their search for a sister city in Australia. It took communication and a few visits before both sides were happy that they had found a city that was a good match.

"Establishing that relationship has been very worthwhile. Our next generation of business people will be comfortable working with Chinese businesses, and we are creating international opportunities for local businesses now."


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