I’ve just returned home from leading my first overseas mission, a two-week trip to China and South Korea that included representatives of the City, Edmonton Airports, and Edmonton Economic Development. The trip was full of meaningful moments — both official and unscripted — and, on the long journey home, I had time to reflect on them all, as well as how great it is to call Edmonton home.
At various times of the mission, our official delegation was joined by representatives from the University of Alberta, the Canadian and Alberta governments, and Marmot Basin of Jasper. Together, our packed program included:
- marking the 30th anniversary of Edmonton’s twinning with the northern Chinese city of Harbin and renewing our ties with their government
- visiting the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao with which we’ve had a relationship for 15 years
- promoting business and investment ties with China and South Korea, and
- attending and speaking at the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) World Congress.
It struck me at various points in this trip — as we journeyed from one appointment to another — that Edmonton is competing every day with hundreds of major cities around the world for investment and business. Everyone wants these important dollars to flow into their economy, and everyone wants to build new pathways into global markets. So how does Edmonton stand out? How do we make sure our story resonates with international investors?
This trip was about concentrating on our core strengths like waste management, arts and culture, energy and education — so that we are being deliberate and focused in our international outreach efforts. The two-week mission’s program was comprehensive and, with senior-level representatives from City organizations present, key to promoting awareness of Edmonton as an investment destination with unique advantages.
While business results will understandably take time to bear fruit, I believe that we have already started to see gains from our mission. As northern cities, both Edmonton and Harbin have much in common and will continue to build on our similarities. We were treated like old friends throughout our stay in Harbin, and following time spent with Mayor Song Xibin (who graciously rejigged his busy schedule to accommodate our visit), our administrations will soon start exploring:
- enhanced sports, cultural and education ties between our two cities
- personnel exchange and other ties in waste management
- direct air service between Asia and Edmonton, taking advantage of the Chinese government’s introduction of 72-hour visa exemptions to travellers in transit
In Beijing, we stepped up our efforts to expand on the activity of our City-owned Waste RE-solutions company. More than ever, fast-developing Chinese cities are facing air quality and quality-of-life challenges and I believe our recognized worldwide leadership in waste management can address them. Already, design discussions are underway in Lichuan city and Waste RE-solutions is continuing to pursue additional opportunities in China. From my talks with HaiDian District Mayor Sun Wenkai, he confirmed that a senior-level delegation will soon visit Edmonton to learn more about Edmonton’s waste management practice, which I also raised with Xicheng District Mayor Wang Shaofeng.
Later, I spoke at a University of Alberta Beijing chapter alumni event and updated them on what is happening in Edmonton — though, understandably, our development is a fraction of the frenetic growth that the Chinese capital city is undergoing. Nevertheless, the gathered alumni reminisced fondly about their memorable time in Edmonton, reflecting on the kindness of Edmontonians, the beauty of the river valley, and the quality of their learning at the U of A. I also interviewed with the China Daily News about our visit.
While our time in Qingdao was brief, I met with Mayor Zhang Xinqi and we talked about Sino Energy’s significant investment in the Edmonton region. Sino Energy is in the advanced stages of finalizing plans for a liquefied natural gas operation in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, as well as the development of a business incubator in Edmonton. In addition, through the University of Alberta, I was invited to speak to students and faculty at the Chinese University of Petroleum, China’s leading petroleum engineering school, about Edmonton’s economic dynamism and the role it will continue to play in the world’s energy economy.
I really enjoyed meeting various mayors throughout our mission, reaffirming a theme that I often repeat at home: cities are the agents of real change. Nowhere is this more true than in Asia. By building relationships with these influential mayors and exploring the shared role we play in developing our local and national economies, Edmonton can continue its ascension as a key driver of Canada’s prosperity. This is a role Chinese cities have embraced — and we should too.
Week two of the mission started in the South Korean capital of Seoul with business meetings. Alongside our Edmonton Airports colleagues, we promoted Edmonton as an air cargo destination and visited the Incheon Free Economic Zone, into which we gained insight from both the government authority as well as a major private developer of the zone. These learnings will be important as we continue to evolve the concept for northern Alberta’s planned free trade zone, Port Alberta. Another highlight of these meetings was a sit-down with a senior delegation from the Korean conglomerate, Hyundai, which is keen to pursue investment opportunities in northern Alberta.
The mission ended with the largest-ever International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) World Congress, the same event Edmonton hosted in 2009. I was honoured to be asked to speak to international audiences on three occasions in the program on the topics of:
- our City’s progress on environmental initiatives since hosting the 2009 World Congress
- our leadership in waste management and progress towards diverting 90 per cent of Edmonton household waste from landfill, highlighting the economic and social value in our investment
- our work on and biodiversity, water and wetland protection.
Edmonton’s progress towards zero waste and other city-building initiatives has not gone unnoticed and resulted in an interview with Citiscope. I was also interviewed by The Verb for a story on young municipal leaders doing sustainability work, which will be published in the coming months.
Our mission was made possible in part by Edmonton Economic Development, University of Alberta, the Alberta government’s Beijing and Seoul offices, and the Canadian embassies in China and South Korea. Meeting with Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques and Ambassador Eric Walsh gave our delegation invaluable on-the-ground insights into these countries’ dynamism and potential for enhanced ties with China and South Korea respectively. A note of thanks for their contributions to the mission.
I am certainly happy to be back on Canadian soil, hug my wife and kids, and get to work on following up on the important international foundations we have laid over the past two weeks.