Ryan's Blog

Economic and Cultural Development with our Sister City Gunpo

From April 18-28, a delegation from the City of Belleville, lead by Mayor Mitch Panciuk, visited Sister City Gunpo, South Korea.  This was the Mayor’s idea to further our 23 year friendship with Gunpo, and we were fortunate to be able to join the ceremonial and economic effort.  The 3 Belleville Councillor’s, Councillor Sandison, Councillor Malette, and myself have each written about our experience in visiting this region in Asia and what it means for Belleville.

Councillor Ryan Williams

There is an incredible opportunity between Canada and Korea, and to that end, Belleville and Gunpo, to forge economic and cultural ties that will benefit both countries.

Belleville and Gunpo have had a special relationship for 22 years, 23 this September, from which the two cities became Sister Cities in 1997 when then Mayor George Zegouras and George Kang, a Korean Immigrant to Belleville, created the partnership.

As a Councillor, it was an honour and a privilege to join the Mayor and his wife, Korean Ambassador, Simon Kang (George’s son) and wife Cindy, and Councillors Chris Malette, Bill Sandison and his wife, QEDC Executive Director Chris King, and QEDC board member Tim Mckinney on a visit to Gunpo, South Korea, this past week to strengthen our relationship and to look first-hand at economic opportunities in our partnership.

This being, for many of us, our first time to Asia, there was a lot to take in. We had a busy summit visiting our Twin City, and were welcomed by their gracious Mayor Han and officials with open arms. We visited the Canadian Embassy and met with the Trade Commissioner in Seoul, toured several factories including the Hyandai Factory in JeonJu, the largest in the world, and got plenty of time to tour our Sister City and meet with its people, whom I was most impressed with.

Korean people are incredible. I was impressed by their generosity and professionalism, their food and their culture. I was most impressed by their ability to drive innovation, their work ethic, and drive.

Canada and South Korea are similar in several ways. South Korea has about 50 million people, and shares a GDP that is very similar to Canada.

However, half the GDP of Korea comes from innovation; that from Sumsung, Hyundai, and LG, what they call the Chaebol, while half of Canada’s GDP comes from its abundant raw resources.

Canada on the other hand suffers from a lack of innovation. Canada has some success, such as Blackberry, and Shopify, but not the mammoth success of the Chaebol, to which if Canada could adopt even a tenth of what Korea has, would impact our GDP immensely. Canada can benefit from Korea’s incredible talent, innovation, and drive.

Belleville can benefit from Korean immigration, specifically with Loyalist College, and building our Korean community established decades ago. Simon Kang, for instance, started Toro Restaurant.

We must find a way for Canada and Korea to benefit, through our partnership with Gunpo, and Belleville. If we benefit, Canada benefits, and if we grow, we can learn much from this great country.

Councillor Bill Sandison

In a country, the size of Newfoundland that has a population of 51 million, housing intensification is enormous with clusters of 30-storey condominiums grouped in blocks of 20 to 30 throughout the major city centres and construction cranes mark the landscape.

What is also striking is the cleanliness of the cities and surrounding countryside.

The success of South Korea is grounded in its business model and diversity, with some 30 conglomerates driving the economic prosperity of the country; 4 of them owning 50% of the assets and accounting for 70% of the profits. A fully integrated and owned supply chain is a strategic advantage, with the Hyundai model extending from the steel mills to vehicle production then onto distribution. The use world class manufacturing processes from Kanban shop floor controls to 100% welding robotics are pronounced.

The agriculture and the food sectors are also significant, and again, in the case of Nongshim, a fully integrated supply chain from the flour mills, production and packaging facilities to distribution.

Small business enterprises are evident but the multinational economic giants like Samsung and LG Technologies are the crown jewels. Samsung’s Digital City in Suwon employs 30,000 people, about two-thirds the population of Belleville.

Despite the contrast in size, Belleville has well established cultural and business linkages with Gunpo and key differentiators for us is our relationship and our quality of life which opens up opportunities for us here in life sciences, education, and tourism.

While cannabis has not been adopted in South Korea, the potential for products other than the recreational variety, and the presence of Hexo Corporation in Belleville positions us for an early market presence and entry once the benefits are understood and embraced by South Korea. Loyalist College offers the potential for student enrollment, student exchange, and development of our workforce. The Bay of Quinte Region has many attractions and unique characteristics to leverage tourism.

There is a mutual eagerness to promote and advance our cultural and commercial ties and plans underway for a reciprocal visit by Mayor Han, the Chamber of Commerce and other delegation members in 2020. ​

Councillor Chris Malette

Belleville has come a long way from the homogenized, Anglo-Saxon enclave of just a recent era as the 1960s or even 1970s.

Today, our city is home to many cultures, many businesses operated by immigrant families and industries that came here from offshore to established a foothold in Quinte and Canada.

As part of our growing realization that our strength comes from diversity, that many cultures can and do thrive in Belleville we have developed a growing partnership in our twin-city affiliation with one of our three Twin Cities, Gunpo, South Korea.

What many see as simply a nice gesture to extend a friendly hand across the ocean to welcome visitors from another shore to visit our city and Quinte region in a somewhat tourism-related atmosphere is really much more complex.

Do we welcome our visitors, show them what our city has to offer, invite them to sample our foods, culture and natural beauty? Of course. That’s all part of the twinning experience.

But, as we, in our recent leg of the now 23-year-old twin city relationship discovered, Belleville and Canada’s relationship with our friends from South Korea can be so much more than simply dinners, receptions, sightseeing tours and developing friendships – although that is all very much an important part of fostering our continued relationship.

A very productive to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul taught us Koreans have many, many eyes on the outside world and that a country of almost 52 million living on a peninsula roughly the size of the island of Newfoundland has a voracious and necessary need for imports of all things from fresh fruits and produce to raw materials such as wood, minerals and natural resources abundant in Canada.

But, we are almost completely off that country’s radar in so many aspects.

The South Korean economy is now ranked at the 11th largest economy in the world and the fourth in Asia. Think about that in terms of the massive economies of Japan and China and one realizes – upon walking the busy streets of Seoul and the less congested roads of cities such as Jeonju – and one realizes Korea can and should be part of economic partnerships with companies located right here in Belleville.

But, Koreans insist on personal relationships in doing business on any scale. You want to sell a Korean company a product, or introduce goods to an importing agency? Meet with the people in charge, develop a relationship and ensure them you are who and what they need. Koreans suffer bit players and those not serious about delivering harshly and one must earn their trust in order to do business there.

We have a relationship with one major Korean firm, the former Halla operation now operating two plants in our industrial park as Hanon Systems. Our twinship with Gunpo is part and parcel with the successful introduction of this firm and we are convinced there are many more opportunities in the sprawling, but often confusing matrix of Korean business world that we can tap and, likewise, provide access for some of our food sector producers, as an example.

Our visit to Gunpo, tours of industries such as Hyundai and Samsung, among others, have shown we can and should continue to foster and grow links with this bustling, ambitious trading nation.

All the while, extending a hand of friendship to a people who continue to show their friends from Belleville just how gracious, caring and courteous they can be when we visit their shores.