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Jefferson County reaches out to China

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If you are extending an offering of intercultural friendship and highlighting the potential for taking advantage of shared interests, you could do worse than maple syrup and pancakes.

A package containing the syrup, along with some all-purpose flour from North Country Farms and a letter of introduction from Jefferson County, began its journey last week to Alxa League, a Chinese prefecture on the border of Mongolia.

The letter, which is addressed to Alxa Congress Vice Director Zhizhong Zhang, invites representatives from the prefecture to visit Jefferson County at their earliest convenience to explore the business expansion opportunities offered by the county’s proximity to Canada. It is signed by Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.

“That expansion potential will serve well as a gateway for businesses within your community that are seeking to broaden their respective operations overseas with a ‘win-win’ job creation potential for residents in each of our respective communities,” the letter reads.

Hounsfield economic development coordinator Peter B. Bryant, who spent more than 35 years working in and around China, has been instrumental in spurring county officials to reach out to Alxa League.

Mr. Bryant said he approached Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency CEO Donald C. Alexander with the idea after meeting with James Ma, a Chinese businessman who has purchased several properties in St. Lawrence County.

Mr. Bryant and Mr. Ma formed a relationship based on discussions about education. Mr. Ma purchased the former Academy at Ivy Ridge in the town of Oswegatchie with an eye toward turning it into an English-as-a-second-language school.

“James Ma has a great affection for the north country,” Mr. Bryant said, adding that a relationship between Jefferson County and the Alxa league would be mutually beneficial.

“We are a global society,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said the idea and letter are merely exploratory.

“We’ve extended the hand. We might get a handshake or something less than that,” Mr. Alexander said.

Calling the idea of becoming a “sister county” with Alxa league, along the lines of Sister Cities International, “a bit premature,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said that she nonetheless wants to show the county’s support for some of the economic development ideas advanced by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency and Mr. Bryant.

“Certainly we need to keep our options open,” she said.

Alxa League and Jefferson County have more in common than you might expect, according to Mr. Bryant.

They are not far from each other in terms of latitude and are both heavily rural with an emphasis on raising livestock. They also both border other countries.

Alxa League is situated at the westernmost part of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and comprises three banners, or “counties,” including Left Banner, Right Banner and Ejina Banner, according to its website.

It contains 23 townships, 190 villages and boasts the largest land mass — 167,770 miles — and smallest population — 200,000 — in Inner Mongolia.

It is home to Dongfeng Space Station, China’s earliest and largest launching test centers for satellites and missiles and the country’s first spacecraft launch base, according to the Alxa League website.

The question is, do they like pancakes there?

An English version of the Alxa League website can be viewed at http://www.als.gov.cn/en/.

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