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Sparks looks to overseas

Pat Patera

Major corporations look to China, with over one billion people, as the brass ring in trade.

So does Sparks.

But it’s a big undertaking, and so the city looks to follow the lead of the state in laying the groundwork for relations with China.

The plan, says Tom Burrous, redevelopment and economic development analyst for the City of Sparks, is to pool resources to court foreign trade. For instance, he says, mid-sized cities could band together to produce brochures lauding the business climate of Nevada.

Last fall, Sparks officials traveled to China to visit several regions and establish a presence. A group of foreign trade brokers hosted the trip, says Burrous.

But when dealing with China, contracts aren’t forged on the spot.

“We got four agreements signed with different regions,” he says. “Which basically means, we will talk to each other.”

Meanwhile, says Burrous, “We, as Americans, want to talk about something concrete, like Copper Canyon. The East Truckee River Canyon. About biodiesel fuel.”

Another thing the city learned was to let the state take the lead. To harness those big guns, Sparks is working with the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

The city invited Al DiStefano, director of global trade and investment, to present a report on international trade to the Sparks City Council.

It’s up to the City Council to make a decision whether to go forward,” says DiStefano.

“I see continuing the dialogue we established,” says Council Member Judy Moss.

Last spring, about a dozen Chinese business people visited Sparks as part of a regional tour. The rationale behind the reciprocal trip to China was to piggyback on efforts by the state.

“I envision this as a long-term process,” says Moss. “On both sides we are approaching it cautiously.”

“I saw two different countries,” says Council Member Mike Carrigan of the trip. “In the business part of China, they understand that international business is the way to go. Beijing businessmen are excited about trade. But down south, in the heart of Mao country, the nation is still run by a communist regime. We could not leave the hotel room without an escort. I felt very uncomfortable. They’ll have a hard time convincing me they’ll be a good business partner.”

While in China, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini invited people to come back to Sparks, Carrigan adds. And as a result, a Chinese businessman visited the city this month.

Despite his misgivings, says Carrigan, he concurred when the city council told Burrous to go ahead and pursue trade with China.

He adds that Italy also is interested in the 17 free-trade zone locations in Sparks.