Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland and development director Anthony Jones will continue to foster relationships they developed in China recently, hoping for possible investment in the city.

The two officials visited China March 9-17 through the Tai Initiative, a nonprofit corporation based in Seattle.

Its purpose is to build real bilateral communication capacity between the United States and China at the subnational level.

Jones said Gahanna would benefit from the trip in three primary ways, with the first being relationships.

"Relationships are critical for any partnership to be successful," he said. "The Gahanna team met with several businesses, government officials and nonprofit leaders on the trip. We built a good foundation of relationships and we are continuing to cultivate those relationships going forward."

Secondly, Jones said, he and Kneeland learned firsthand how competitive it is to attract businesses and jobs to the city.

"We learned the strategies and techniques used by Chinese cities in attracting investment," he said. "We intend to integrate and build upon those strategies to help Gahanna remain competitive in economic development."

Thirdly, Jones said, the city will benefit from best practices.

"We learned some best practices as it pertains to renewable energy, green-building design, sustainability, industrial park development, business incubation and entrepreneurship support services," he said.

Kneeland said 12 U.S. mayors were supposed to be on the trip but only he and Bill Wild, the mayor of Westland, Michigan, were able to participate.

Kneeland said he probably wouldn't have received as much personalized attention had more mayors attended.

"There were just two of us who met with influential people in business and manufacturing, and financial investors who have potential interest in us," he said. "One thing we came back with was connections. We will continue to foster these relationships."

Kneeland said banks aren't in the position of wanting to invest in spec buildings.

"We're looking for office and flex space," he said. "If we can get investors to finance any construction, that's a win for us. We could fill them up based on our vacancy rates. There isn't much vacancy. We hope to get some foreign investment in that."

Kneeland said he and Jones started their visit with a trip to Shanghai, followed by Changzhou and then Shenzhen.

"In each one of the cities, we visited with a number of different groups from the Shanghai Institute of International Relations," Kneeland said. "Their mission was to understand how local governments in the U.S. operate and compare to Chinese municipalities and make recommendations to counterparts."

Jones said they shared that Gahanna and central Ohio are great places for investment and full of opportunity.

"Our community values and commitment to partnership is what makes Gahanna great," he said. "I think we conveyed that Gahanna is open for business and is willing to learn and grow from partnerships with Chinese cities and businesses."

Kneeland said one of the businesses they met with was a tractor company, AGCO, that is based in the United States but manufactures in China.

"We met with them and took a tour of their plant," he said. "We've got video of tractors coming off the line."

He said he was amazed at some of the park trails in China, with some of the trails almost a football-field wide.

"Their trails are unbelievable," Kneeland said. "They've done serious investment."

Kneeland said he was surprised by the development zones in China.

"It was as if they built these purpose-built mini cities," he said. "They had a specific purpose. They included manufacturing facilities."

Kneeland said thousands of people lived in the development zone so they could go to work conveniently.

"They invested millions, maybe billions in these development zones," he said. "They would have a development zone model in a reception center of a building. They were huge -- like 100 foot by 100. They also have unique marketing videos."

Jones said he thinks the biggest surprise is just how fast some cities are growing in China.

"Whole cities are being built over the span of just a few years," he said. "It's a sight to see."

Kneeland said all expenses were paid for the trip except travel there and back.

The airfare cost a total of $2,648, which was covered from the city's marketing budget.

A video of one of China's development zones, courtesy of Kneeland, can be found online at https://youtu.be/nHqy6A8RUKE. A tour of the AGCO plant in Shenzhen, China, can be viewed at https:// youtu.be/7zEZduTRPEk.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla