AUBURN — City officials will 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.

City officials said Fang Cheng Morrow, owner of Prospect Hill Golf Course in Auburn, will pay for the trip, which will include meetings on tourism, factory tours, conversations on educational exchanges and the investment of Asian capital in Auburn’s economy.

Morrow, president of Mingjing Industry Group Co., purchased the golf course last year and invested in improvements immediately. 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 fellow city officials the trip will lead to more development in Auburn, saying that he believes Auburn is the only municipality in Maine, New England and possibly the East Coast to take part in 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. 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.”

MARKETING AUBURN’S POTENTIAL

According to a tentative itinerary, Levesque and Chammings 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 before the flight back.

“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 that she and Wang were introduced to the area and it made a good impression when Wang’s daughter attended Hebron Academy. At Wang’s request, Morrow pulled together a delegation of Chinese company heads that met with Gov. Paul LePage last May to hear about why investing in Maine made sense.

OVERCOMING TRADE OBSTACLES

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 – connectivity permitting – will be updating residents of Auburn regularly during the trip via the city’s social media pages and at www.auburnmaine.gov.

Andrew Rice can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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