Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grand Rapids likely to gain fifth Sister City

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Jim Harger
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- The city's family of Sister Cities is about to get bigger.

Zapopan, a city of nearly 1.2 million residents in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is about to become Grand Rapids' fifth Sister City.

City commissioners were expected to approve the relationship today, ending a six-year search for a municipal sibling in Mexico.

Susan Camp, president of Grand Rapids' Sister City International organization, said the new site was chosen from several compatible Mexican cities.

Camp said the local group has been looking for a Mexican sister city in response to Grand Rapids' growing Hispanic community, most of whom have roots in Mexico.
"It just seems to make sense for Grand Rapids Sister City to have that kind of connection and partnership," she said.

Zapopan (pronounced Zah-PO-pahn) is the second largest city in the state of Jalisco and an educational and cultural center, she said.

Like Grand Rapids, there are 13 colleges and universities with campuses in Zapopan. Michigan State University's College of Law has a program in Zapopan.

Assistant to the City Manager Jose Reyna was among several city officials who visited Zapopan this year. Mayor George Heartwell and 1st Ward City Commissioner Roy Schmidt were among the group.

Though Zapopan is much larger than Grand Rapids, its residents face many of the same issues as people in Grand Rapids, Reyna said.

"The difference is that U.S. cities tend to be much more developed with regard to infrastructure," said Reyna, whose mother was born near Zapopan.
"Although they have larger populations, the sophistication of their systems is not as highly developed."

Reyna said they expect to host a delegation from Zapopan in the early summer for a formal Sister City signing ceremony. Grand Rapids will send a delegation for a formal ceremony later this year.
Grand Rapids Sister City International is a nonprofit group largely funded by the individual Sister City organizations, Camp said.

The agreement with Zapopan is the first since 1994, when the city signed an agreement with Ga District, a city in the West African nation of Ghana. Grand Rapids also has sister city ties with Bielsko-Biala, Poland; Omihachiman, Japan; and Perugia, Italy.

The city's new JW Marriott hotel has featured the sister cities in its public spaces, meeting and guest rooms and parking decks.

JW Marriott and Sister City officials hope the theme will help land a Sister Cities International Convention in 2009. The four-day event would host about 1,000 international and domestic visitors.

Zapopan Delegation visits Grand Rapids

On October 29, 2007, our city had the honor of hosting representatives from our future Sister City: Zapopan, Jalisco. Dra. Patricia E. Malfavón, International Affairs and Sister Cities Coordinator for Zapopan and Lic. Maria del Carmen Mendoza, Comptroller for the State of Jalisco, visited several tourist spots in Grand Rapids and met with City leaders to exchange ideas for future collaboration.

“We are much exited to be here. On behalf of Sr. Juan Sánchez Aldana Ramírez, Mayor of Zapopan, we want to thank everyone for your gracious hospitality and want to deliver a message of commitment to work in developing projects for our sister city relationship”, expressed Dra. Patricia Malfavón. “We are working in several areas to develop cultural, economic technological and social projects”.

According to Dra. Malfavón, Zapopan has a very diverse economy with an emphasis in technology, culture and education “There are 13 internationally recognized Universities in Zapopan, with student exchange programs all over the world. Our objective is to increase this number with rand Rapids and Zapopan; this is just one of the topics we explored with the Grand Rapids Mayor, George Heartwell, who, by the way, is a very amiable person and very committed”.

As for technology, “we have are recipients of heavy investments from multinational corporations, most of them focused in Information Technology”, Dra. Malfavón added.

“Tourism is also very important for us. In Zapopan, we have the largest Convention Center in Latin America, home of many international exhibits and expos. Ours is a very strong municipality, we are part of the metropolitan area of Guadalajara, and 60% of our population is of young people”.

Although Dra. Malfavón considered Grand Rapids a modern city, she finds many similarities between cities, she stressed that “we share the same objectives towards the future; this will allow us to work together, in projects for growth and opportunities for our citizens”.

Finally, Dra. Malfavón expressed that this visit had impressed her “it was a great experience, one that we will share with our Mayor and, of course, with President Calderon, whose administration is very much focused in internationalization; here his words: México en el Mundo…“Dear people of Grand Rapids, we wait for you with open arms, we will support you in any way we can… Zapopanos in Grand Rapids, we would love for your children to know their culture and to get involved in many of the projects that will develop from this marvelous relationship”.

Amongst the many activities in their agenda, Dra. Malfavón and Lic. Maria del Carmen Mendoza met with Mayor George Heartwell; Juan Olivares, President, Grand
Rapids Community College, Vicente Sánchez Ventura, Consul of Mexico, Luis García, IME Councilperson for Michigan; representatives of Grand Valley State University; they also visited the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Meijer Gardens, and of course, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Expo.

It is important to mention that this visit was made possible thanks to the excellent coordination of the Sister Cities-Mexico Committee; and its President Arturo Armijo, who plans to have the official signing ceremony on June, 2008.