AUBURN — City officials plan to spend 12 days in China next month as part of an effort to encourage more Chinese business investment in Auburn.
Mayor Jason Levesque and Economic Development Director Michael Chammings say they will use the trip to promote tourism, education and economic development.
According to the city officials, the trip will be paid for by Fang Cheng Morrow, owner of Prospect Hill Golf Course in Auburn, and will include meetings on tourism, factory tours, conversations to explore educational exchanges and the investment of Asian capital in Auburn’s economy.
Morrow, president of Mingjing Industry Group Co., bought the golf course last year and immediately invested in improvements. At the time, she said she and business partner Nianping Wang were also scouting locally for land to build a 15-acre, indoor mushroom-growing factory that could create 150 jobs in the next two years.
She has also discussed plans for a hotel at Prospect Hill.
Levesque said the goal of the trip is for Auburn to be a bridge between Maine and Asia, “connecting Maine-made products to worldwide consumers via Auburn’s first-class logistic infrastructure and workforce.”
At this week’s City Council meeting, Levesque told city officials the trip could lead to more development in Auburn, adding that he believes Auburn is the only municipality in Maine and New England, and possibly on the entire East Coast, to take a business trip to China.
“Considering the current national dialogue on trade, embargoes and tariffs, we are reminded that all economic development is local,” Levesque said in a statement released Wednesday.
“Auburn can’t wait for politicians in Washington to determine our future.,” Levesque said. “We need to seek creative solutions and build new, mutually beneficial relationships with potential investors to ensure that when the opportunity arises, we are at the top of their list.”
According to a tentative itinerary for the trip, the pair will fly from Boston to Beijing on Sept. 12 and return Sept. 24.
Some of the trip details include a tour of a mushroom plant, a meeting with a university president on educational and exchange program possibilities and a visit to the headquarters of Morrow’s Mingjing Industry Group Co. It also includes a stop at the Great Wall of China.
“We are part of a world economy,” Chammings said. “Auburn has the potential to be a real player on the world stage. This is a great opportunity for Auburn and for Maine.”
Morrow told the Sun Journal last year she and Wang were introduced to the area though Hebron Academy, which Wang’s daughter attended, and were left with a good impression. At his request, Morrow pulled together a delegation of Chinese company heads who met with Gov. Paul LePage last May to hear why investing in Maine made sense.
Last month, while speaking to Xinhua News, the largest state-run Chinese media agency, Levesque said he believes Auburn and Maine can “overcome” the recent tariff and trade obstacles by working together directly.
“(The U.S.-China) trade partnership’s going to last for generations to come,” he told Xinhua. “So by getting in now and taking advantage of what Auburn has, I think there’s some right ground for some smart, long-term thinking.”
In the article, Levesque also pitched Auburn as a perfect fit for Chinese investment.
“Our housing costs are low. Our land is plentiful. We can absorb increases in population, not just physically, but we can actually absorb it within our culture very effectively,” he told the publication.
According to the city, Levesque and Chammings hope to update Auburn residents regularly during the trip via the city’s social media pages and at www.auburnmaine.gov.