Chris Alonzo, a third-generation mushroom farmer from the county of Chester, US state of Pennsylvania, is soon to have a strong foothold for growth in the much-coveted, proliferating mushroom market in China.
Alonzo, president of Pietro Industries, has partnered with a Chinese businessman to open a mushroom-growing facility in east China's Anhui Province.
The state-of-the-art mushroom-growing facility, which will produce 17 tons of mushrooms daily in the beginning, is expected to be operational late this year.
The mushroom grower could hardly gain entry into the Chinese market if Chester County had not established a sister city relationship with Funan County, in the northwest of Anhui, which is near the megacity Shanghai.
"That is a project that's probably the furthest along in terms of our relationship with sister cities," Terence Farrell, Chester County commissioner, told Xinhua via phone on Monday.
The mushroom project is the latest success story for Chester County businesses expanding to China, he said.
The county, with an area of 1,965 sq km and about 516,000 people, has long taken pride in its diverse agricultural products. Farmers there produce a whopping half of all the mushrooms in the United States.
The mushroom project is a win-win for both Funan and Chester, said the commissioner, a longtime advocate of expanding two-way cooperation with Chinese partners.
Farrell and his colleagues launched Chester County China Initiative (CCCI) in 2013 to build business and cultural ties between the US county and China that in turn will bring in Chinese investment and create high value-added jobs.
FOUNDATION FOR MORE WIN-WIN COOPERATION
Alonzo will share with the Chinese side his expertise in how to build the mushroom operation, the team to run it and how to manage the raw materials used in the growing process, Farrell said, adding that Chester will also benefit from the project in a couple of different ways,
First of all, the mushroom farmer himself will profit financially because when the joint venture makes money, he will make money.
The facility that is being built in China is "even more advanced" than the one he has in Chester. There the farmer will be able to try out new technology and then bring that back not only to his home farm, but to other Chester County mushroom farmers, the commissioner said.
"It's sort of like a laboratory in the field or real life laboratory," he said, adding that the project benefits other Chester companies involved in mushroom industry too.
"And then another way is that because we go over there and the network keeps expanding, we have opportunities that open up," Farrell said.
"But because we went there, there was also the opportunity when we met with the mayor of Fuyang, which is the next level up city, was interested in exploring ways that we might cooperate," he said. "So the sister city relationships provide a foundation for what you can continue to fill."
After all, Farrell said, building relationships in a foreign market as big as China "takes a little bit more (time)," "people have to get to know each other (first)."
In a latest development, Longwood Gardens, Chester's most famous garden, has been invited by the county's another sister city -- Yanqing, which is on the northern outskirts of Beijing, to participate in upcoming International Horticultural Exhibition.
Open from April 29 to Oct. 7, the 162-day expo will exhibit the latest achievements in floriculture, and fruit and vegetable farming at the foot of the Great Wall in Yanqing.
By 2020, China will overtake Britain to become the largest overseas tourist market for the county, according to the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau. The county's tourism department has been in contact with tour operators in China to promote Chester tourism packages.
Farrell noted that the sister city partnerships between the US and Chinese cities also contribute to the smooth development of the bilateral ties as a whole.
"Another point is that I think building these sister city relationships, the people to people relationships will actually spur our two countries to work out whatever difficulties we are going through right now," Farrell said. "Because people see the opportunities, the results, or the fruits from all of the bilateral trade."
The Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. and Sister Cities International (SCI) are to hold a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of sister city relationships between Chinese and US cities on Wednesday evening.
There are now 50 pairs of sister states/provinces and 227 pairs of sister cities between the two countries, the Chinese embassy said.
SCI is a non-profit organization that promotes local level ties between the United States and other countries.