Two Gahanna officials are headed to China to build relationships and international development opportunities.

Through The Tai Initiative, Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland and Development Director Anthony Jones will be part of a United States Mayors' Delegation to visit Shanghai, Changzhou and Shenzhen Thursday, March 9, through March 17.

The Tai Initiative is a nonprofit corporation based in Seattle, Washington, whose purpose is to build real bilateral communication capacity between the U.S. and China at the subnational level (state, city, university, business). The intention is to nurture a network of solid personal relationships upon which the two national governments can lean for achieving successful communication, understanding and trust.

The Tai Initiative seeks to collect and distribute the best lessons of successful programs in an effort to inspire each country's national leaders.

Kneeland said he's excited but a little apprehensive because of what's going on at the national level.

He said The Tai Initiative contacted him about the trip.

"It was nothing I was thinking about until they called and asked if I was interested in going on this business mission trip," Kneeland said. "Their mission is connecting local municipalities with peers of local nature in China to build relationships -- not sister cities -- and talk about similarities.

"It seems they want to talk about best practices and we want similar information. We will talk about air and water quality. They will want to know how we get involved with that locally."

Kneeland said he hopes to work on business development by meeting with Chinese investors.

"While we're there, we'll do business development," he said. "We have several companies in our industrial park that have ties there, mainly in manufacturing."

Kneeland said Chinese companies have a much different way of doing business than the United States, and he wants to learn about their culture.

He will be joined by a mayor from Michigan.

"They invited Columbus, but there was a timing conflict," Kneeland said. "We'll meet up with some folks from North Carolina. They aren't traveling with us but will be there."

Kneeland said he wants to better understand the Chinese business culture and make new relationships with business executives.

"It's a great opportunity to sell the city and do international development," he said.

"Gahanna is expanding its economic development efforts to connect with Chinese businesses in an effort to establish relationships and encourage foreign direct investment," Jones said.

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

"The city will fly us there," he said. "We have money in our marketing budgets to cover those things."

The tentative itinerary includes a meeting with the head of the Jiading Industrial Zone as well as a tour, a visit to the Qiuxia Garden, a meeting with executives from key Jiading District enterprises, a visit to the Shanghai Institute of International Relations to meet members of the City Diplomacy Task Force, a visit to Yuyuan Gardens, a visit with vice mayor of Wujin District and other officials, a meeting with executives from the Wujin Hi-tech Industrial Zone, and a tour of the Wujin West Taihu Science and Technology Park and Taihu Lake Bay Tourist Resort.

"There's a full agenda," Kneeland said. "We will pitch how we have places for development. We have rail and (proximity to) the airport. We will explain how we fit in with Columbus and the state."

When Chinese delegations have visited Gahanna, he said, they have always come with gifts.

"We'll be taking gifts with us that represent Gahanna," he said. "We'll meet with (Chinese) mayors and present an 8-by-10 painting with rosemary, the city herb, from the Herb Center and other things we'll package up and give them."

The U.S. delegation will travel with one interpreter and the Chinese executives also will have an interpreter.

The Tai Initiative envisions Chinese and American policymakers and leaders of all kinds cooperating in the delivery of practical solutions to elevate human dignity and reduce hunger, disease and insecurity for the international community.

Currently, The Tai Initiative is an American nonprofit, but it seeks to find or develop a capable partner in China.