Fort Bend’s diverse make-up spearhead for economic benefits
By Elsa Maxey
Taking advantage of the diversity of Fort Bend County is what really spurred the initiation of the Fort Bend Global Initiative that residents hear about from time to time. It started in 2009, “Allison Wen and I were both talking” and it was “about building relationships and profiling Fort Bend County on an international basis, and also for seeking economic development opportunities for local businesses,” said County Judge Bob Hebert.
He’s just returned from Foshan in China. “We went over there at their invitation to talk to a large group of business executives about foreign trade zones in the United States and their availability in Fort Bend County,” Judge Hebert told the Star. “We will have to see what comes out of that.” Businesses participating in foreign trade zones have been able to benefit their bottom line by saving money. Within a foreign trade zone serving Fort Bend County, such as the port in Freeport, Texas, company goods could be unloaded, manufactured, reassembled, tested, sampled, processed, repackaged, and re-exported without the intervention of U.S. customs authorities. Only when goods would be moved outside the zone would they become subject to U.S. customs duties.
For now, Fort Bend County continues its relationship with a memorandum of agreement with the Chanchen District of Foshan City of the People’s Republic of China signed in 2012, after a preliminary visit was made the previous year. “We call it a sister community,” said Judge Hebert and the county has a five year agreement subject to renewal based on mutual benefit.
Last September another delegation of Fort Bend leaders from Fort Bend traveled to the Republic of Turkey. “The trip was a result of coordination by the Fort Bend Global Initiative with the purpose of establishing a friendship relationship with both the cities of Adana and Kahramanmaras,” said Judge Hebert. There, too, agreements were signed for friendly cooperation relating to the economy and trade, education and training, environmental protection and cultural exchange.
A volunteer group from Fort Bend County called the Asian Advisory Committee served as the foundation of what later became the Friendship Committee, which initiated the first visit to China, and “we’ve now had four to five delegations come to Fort Bend County for two to five days,” said Judge Hebert. “We’ve made three tips over there and Lamar school district has played host to 10 Foshan students.” Judge Hebert said that participation by Fort Bend ISD had also been planned, but the school district was in the midst of changing superintendents at the time “and it didn’t seem to be an appropriate time to drive that interest with an interim superintendent and other things happening.”
In reciprocation of the students visiting from Foshan, the county is intending on sending 10 to 12 of its local students to China in the near future as part of the exchange.“They are planning to send another delegation here on medical issues,” shared Judge Hebert about an impending visit from Foshan, “and they are very motivated in the area of education and medicine.”
It is important to note the there are no tax dollars spent on the Global Initiative effort. “We don’t know if we are going to get a significant return (although) we think it’s worth the investment,” said Judge Hebert. “I don’t think you take tax dollars to Vegas to balance the budget and I don’t think you take tax dollars oversees to see if anybody is interested in doing business with you, and it has to be community funded.” Towards that end, Judge Hebert pays his own way to and from the countries visited.
Global Initiatives, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization was created in 2012 to fund the exploratory and mutually beneficial global activities with a board comprised of Allison Wen as Chairman; Chris Breax, Vice Chairman; and Farrah Gandhi and Mike Rockwood serving as board members.
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