Potential Sister City Could Present Business Opportunities

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

The Milwaukee Common Council will consider a proposal to form a sister city relationship with Carora, Venezuela. Carora Mayor Julio Chavez visited Milwaukee recently and met with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and local Hispanic community leaders to discuss the sister city proposal.

"I think if we can find a way to make the citizens of Milwaukee and Carora happy, I’m for it," Barrett said. "We’re seeing what options (they) have to offer. It’s our hope we can continue to find ways to sell them products, and I know they want to sell products to us."

"The sister city program will allow us to achieve and work toward economic goals as well as do a lot of exchanges in the areas of culture, science, education, etc," Chavez said.

Last October, Milwaukee forged a sister city partnership with Ningbo, China. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce was integrally involved in its forming, going so far as to create it’s own China Council.

However, an MMAC official said they haven’t been contacted yet about the Venezuelan proposal.

"I don’t know anything about it," said Pete Beitzel, vice president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. "Nobody bothered to approach us on it."

Venezuela officials have offered Milwaukee residents discounted home heating oil and free eye surgery for low-income patients who are willing to travel to Venezuela for their operations, should the partnership be established.

However, Milwaukee area businesses also might have a chance to capitalize on a sister city relationship.

"The meetings we had were very fruitful," said Milwaukee businessman Bob Chernow, who was tapped by Barrett to spearhead the sister city initiative with Carora. "I started making a laundry list of contacts to be made (because Carora officials) really have no contacts in Milwaukee."

Carora is largely in need of irrigation, dam and distribution systems to bring river and lake waters inland.

Badger Meter Inc. chairman, president and chief executive officer Richard Meeusen met with Carora officials recently. Meeusen said his firm is already doing business in Venezuela and plans to do more there.

Because of the scarcity and overuse of available water, it is important that it be metered, Meeusen said. Those using it be should be charged, albeit for pennies, in order to better regulate water usage, he said.

"The water meters currently in place (in Carora) are copper," Meeusen said. "These are often vandalized-stolen because of the value of copper down there. We offer (Carora) discounted plastic meters which solve that problem."

The additional work that the business in Venezuela gives Badger Meter keeps its employees productive, Meeusen said. Large-scale meters for irrigation are a product Badger Meter can easily supply, he said.

"A partnership is great for both cities," Meeusen said. "They benefit from discounted products, and we benefit from exporting our products."

Beyond water, Carora needs assistance from the construction industry. There is a shortage of building materials there. Humid climates demand cement buildings for longevity and durability, but cement is hard to come by.

The country’s people compete to work in the oil industry because it pays well. As a result, there is a  shortage of agricultural workers. The government is responding by funneling money into small business development.

Additionally, Carora provides low- interest loans, low-cost equipment and technical assistance to its entrepreneurial citizens, Chavez said.

One way Chavez is enticing foreign business growth is by constructing an industrial park.

"It gives the opportunity for small businesses to acquire property in the industrial park and pay for it in the future when they actually start getting some income," Chavez said.

When businesses begin to turn a profit, currency exchange will not be problematic, Chavez said.

Milwaukee and Carora both have several businesses involved in the plastic, construction, food processing, canning and dairy industries.

Because Carora is building and revamping its hospitals, and medical technologies in Milwaukee are state-of-the-art, there are many opportunities for both cities, Chernow said.

"I think there are huge opportunities here," Chernow said. "If you look at Venezuela, this country has poured a huge amount of money into health, building homes, construction and infrastructure and education. That’s the way you build a country up."

Businesses bringing materials from Milwaukee, or elsewhere, to Carora won’t have to pay an importation tax if they conduct business in Venezuela, Chavez said. In order to better facilitate importation and exportation, the country has invested in upgrading a major railroad system.

Statistics provide further incentive to invest in the country. In 1988, inflation in Venezuela was 100 percent. Today, it is 0.6 percent.

Those statistics reflect the city’s small business development.

Elected neighborhood assemblies receive resources directly from the central government to execute their own local projects. The ordinances being put forward in Carora grant privileges to small businesses and cooperatives.

"We can give them preferential access to land, logistical support and work to guarantee access to other markets in Venezuela through the central government’s social programs," Chavez said.

Having a partnership with Carora will also directly connect those already partnered with Carora, including cities in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, Chavez said.

Small businesses in Venezuela benefit from the community banks in place. The community banks receive money from the central government. In Carora, 10 banks have received $6 billion bolivares, or $300,000. Community banks are managed by elected bodies of community leaders. They in turn assign resources to projects they believe can benefit the community the most.

"These types of programs have the full support of the central government because it falls within the framework of the whole policy of indigenous development, to work from within," Chavez said.

Chavez encourages Milwaukee business owners to visit Carora to see the opportunities for themselves.

"Beyond what we sign on paper, the most important thing is what we’re going to put into practice with the small businesses there."

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