(Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, KY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 27--Bill Parrish, chairman of the Green River Area Development District board of directors, and Jiten Shah, GRADD executive director, are working to take the GRADD region's ties with the Olomouc Kraj region of the Czech Republic to the next level.
Eight years ago, the seven-county GRADD became a sister region with the Olomouc Kraj, which includes 13 counties around Olomouc. Olomouc has been Owensboro's sister city since 1994. In 2011, GRADD signed a partnership agreement with Olomouc Kraj, and representatives of the Czech region visited Kentucky in 2012.
"Over the years we've continued exchanges on many levels -- medicine, arts, education -- it is a long history," Shah said. "The city has strongly supported it. Ron (Mayor Ron Payne) has been there and previous mayors. They (representatives of the Olomouc region) have come here many times, most recently for the opening of the convention center."
Just a few weeks ago (July 26-Aug. 2), Parrish, Shah and three other GRADD representatives visited Olomouc Kraj. It was Parrish's first trip to the Czech region and what he found was more than what he expected. Webster County Judge-Executive Jody Townsend, Blaine Pieper, CEO of Ohio County Hospital, and Sandra Wood of McLean County went with Parrish and Shah.
"I expected to see Eastern Soviet Bloc, less than first class," Parrish said. "I was absolutely surprised. They are well educated. They have tremendous roads, modern airports and subways and a strong democracy, wonderful restaurants and food. As a vacation spot, it's now on my list to go back."
This most recent visit to the Czech Republic was expressly to foster economic development ties, Parrish said.
"We have arts and culture ties and we've solidified future exchanges for medical and legal," Parrish said. "We went to a major hospital and they will send folks to our hospital. We went to their university medical school and their law school."
Parrish said the trip was a chance for him to look for potential economic ties between the two regions.
"The lynchpin has to be economic," he said. "It can't just be things for us. It has to be reciprocal."
The Kraj region make products that people in the GRADD area could use, Parrish said. Hand-made paper for artists has been produced in and around Olomouc since the late 1500s.
"This is an artist community opportunity for them," he said.
Parrish said the GRADD group will be discussing the next step in the partnership.
"It's time to move past where we've been," he said. "It's time to engage regional leaders there to see if there's fertile ground for opportunities. ... They are a well-developed, modern, stable, democratic government. There's no reason we shouldn't have strong economic ties with that area."
"They are hungry to work with us," Shah said.
Shah said the Czech governor of the state where Olomouc Kraj region resides is committed to developing economic ties with GRADD.
"Where are the compatible areas?" said Shah, who has visited Olomouc three times. "Are there voids they have that we can fill? They are eager to learn from us."
Shah said he has seen great change in the Olomouc area in the years he's been visiting.
"Every time I go I see progress," he said. "They are hungry for foreign advice, investment and entrepreneurship," he said.
"We'll go back to our chambers, formulate a plan for where we go next, play to our strengths and their voids and get business leaders involved," Parrish said.
Representatives of the Olomuoc Kraj medical and legal professions are expected to visit the GRADD area next summer, Shah said.
Steve Vied, (270) 691-7297, firstname.lastname@example.org
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