Trade mission nearing an end for mayor

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Her trip to China and Japan may be winding down but Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray's mind is racing.

With the 2011 Indiana Trade Mission ending this week, she continues to absorb the experience and what impact it may have on the future.

One thing she has definitely learned is despite living in the age of text messaging, Twitter and all the trappings of social media, you can still find yourself disconnected when you're several thousands of miles from home.

"But I have learned that we can survive when we aren't 'connected,'" the mayor assured the Banner Graphic via email Tuesday.

"My Blackberry has had no service since we landed in Japan ... some AT&T glitch that couldn't be fixed. After being able to communicate so readily in China, just like at home, it was initially a huge frustration and feeling of isolation," she said.

But therein perhaps lies a silver lining.

"Now, it actually is peaceful," the mayor said. "Everyone else is constantly checking for messages and emailing, and I can watch the countryside as we travel by. I think it might actually have been a gift."

Mayor Murray has still been able to connect with Greencastle by utilizing the business center at the hotel when her schedule has allowed.

Travel in the Far East has been eye-opening as well.

"We've traveled by all different modes of transportation, and most certainly our trips by car, train and bus have given us the opportunity to see many miles of two countries," she said.

"I've been really aware of the tens of thousands, probably millions by now, of lives that we have brushed by during our travels. The lives of people who, just like us, work and live every day hoping to take care of themselves and their families. They have different customs, languages and governments, but we all find ourselves part of the same planet with lives that are more intertwined than ever before."

For the Indiana delegation as a whole, the Midwest U.S. Japan Association gathering at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo dominated Monday and Tuesday activities.

However, Mayor Murray and Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Director Bill Dory spent Monday in Ota City, visiting officials at both Chiyoda and Shigeru Industries (parent company of Greencastle's Heartland Automotive).

"Most definitely that is where we needed to spend our time," Mayor Murray said of the side trip.

The Indiana group left Tokyo at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday for Nagoya, some 400 miles away but amazingly only two hours by bullet train.

"We will be touring the Toyota plant there and moving on later in the day to a Friends of Indiana reception to talk with more businesses that have invested and are possibly looking for new opportunities to invest in the U.S.," Mayor Murray noted.

Thursday then will be a 12.5-hour travel day back through JFK in New York.

"And then it will still be Thursday," she said. "Definitely another one of those crazy travel things."

Updating activity at the Midwest U.S. Japan Conference, the mayor said Monday was a day of speeches and plenary sessions.

The group heard remarks from governors of four Japanese prefectures -- Shiga, Chiba, Saitma and Yamanashi (Overall there are 47 prefectures in Japan). Governors from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan also had their opportunity at the podium. Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman spoke Tuesday.

The keynote address Monday was presented by Kero Kitagami, Japan's vice minister of economy, trade and industry.

"He shared with us the Japanese priorities since 3/11 -- reconstruction, getting the nuclear 'fallout' from 3/11 under control and the review of Japan's use of nuclear energy, and the economy," Murray said in reference to the earthquake and tsunami disasters of March 11, 2011.

The other keynoter was John Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, who shared personal insights of the reality and ramifications of the 3/11 tragedy.

"I think we all left the room with a much more profound understanding of what has been happening in Japan and how extensive the helping role of the U.S. has been," Mayor Murray said. "His remarks were moving."

She reported that plenary sessions focused on "Innovative Approaches to Growth" and "Innovation in Energy and the Environment."

"One thing I was struck by during the innovation in energy discussion," the mayor said, "was a suggestion that was made about perhaps coming up with ways of actually getting individual families involved with energy conservation.

"All thought that was a very proactive idea, and I sat there feeling very proud of the work of our RISE initiative and the fact that families of Putnam County have already been asked to consider taking -- and many have already taken -- the same energy challenge we put forth to Sen. Lugar in June."

And speaking of cost savings, the mayor reminds residents that the travel costs and conference fees for her participation in the trade mission have not come out of the city's budget.

"With our dollars as tight as they are, that was a large concern of mine before agreeing to come," she noted. "As you know, there are Development Center dollars that are set aside annually. Those hadn't been used in five years, and the rest I took responsibility for.

"The cost to the city is really in my time away, which I hope will be well compensated for by new opportunities and the strengthening of relationships with our Heartland and Chiyoda partners."

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