OREM — Provo's nine-person delegation won't be the only Utah County group in Beijing later this month to sign a sister-city agreement.

Orem is also sending four City Council members to sign an agreement with Urumqui, China.

City officials hope a relationship with Urumqui will benefit Orem economically and provide residents here with cultural and educational opportunities.

"Over time it will have an impact. We're opening doors to be a corporate citizen globally," said Brad Whitaker, Orem economic development director. "You do business with those you know."

These are essentially the same reasons Provo will enter into an agreement with Nanning, China. And like the Provo delegation, the group from Orem will pay its own expenses.

Orem has already set aside $10,000 for its sister-city agreement. Provo will introduce a line item in next year's budget for its sister-city arrangement.

But economic development directors from both cities say there is no financial risk in establishing these types of relationships. They say the agreements open doors and make Provo and Orem players in the global market.

Few Utah County companies currently do business with China, but officials from both cities say sister-city agreements could change that.

"We've been told by some of our businesses that China is a hard market to penetrate. We hope there can be some kind of economic benefit," said Mayor Lewis Billings of Provo's agreement with Nanning.

While Provo and Orem officials aren't sure their cities will benefit economically from relationships with Nanning and Urumqui, they already enjoy cultural opportunities from the agreement.

Groups from both cities have visited Provo and Orem, and in October a group of 22 business leaders from Nanning will spend a week studying at BYU.

The roots for both agreements start at Utah County's institutions for higher learning. Brigham Young University has a long-standing relationship with Nanning, and Utah Valley State College groups often visit China.

Orem and Provo leaders think more exchanges between the cities will broaden cultural understanding and tolerance in their cities.

But why would two "sister" cities in Utah County look thousands of miles away for economic and cultural opportunities? Wouldn't a relationship with a city in, say, Mexico, make more sense?

About 45,000 Hispanics live in Utah County, the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reports, and 65 percent to 70 percent are Mexican. Hispanics own about 500 businesses in the county.

J.L. Madrigal, president of the county's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he has contacts with Mexican cities that would be interested in a sister-city relationship with Provo or Orem.

Madrigal thinks a relationship with a city strong in the high-tech industry, such as Monterey or Guadalajara, could benefit Provo. "But then again, it might not produce a lot of benefit for Utah," Madrigal says. "Just because the benefits (of a relationship with China) aren't evident now doesn't mean it won't be a good thing in the future."


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