Increasing international understanding

Partner Cities Tour brings delegates from three European countries to Camas

The international delegation got to experience one of the many things that makes life in the Pacific Northwest so great--the myriad of outdoor activities that are readily available. Here, the group kayaks the Columbia River. Other activities included a trip to Mount St. Helens and a picnic at Beacon Rock park.

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Camas Mayor Scott Higgins (center) poses on the steps of the Camas Public Library with mayors and council members from cities in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. The delegates arrived on Sept. 13 and are set to depart today. While in Camas, they toured local businesses and City Hall, dined at local restaurants, toured Microsoft, went sightseeing via train, and were the honored guests at the Portland Polish Festival.

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Delegates listen to Higgins and retired city administrator Lloyd Halverson discuss how Camas leaders in the 1970s and 1980s developed Camas from a small mill town into a diverse, mostly high-tech economy. “The story is interesting and may be applicable elsewhere,” Halverson said.

When asked what he enjoyed most about Camas, Michael Wagener, mayor of Wissen, Germany, said “the people.”“It’s the contact with the people that is most rewarding,” he said. “When you come to another country, you can learn a lot of things by listening. We can learn how a city gets a vision, and comes up with ways to make it happen.”

Wagener needed no translator to communicate his statement. He speaks fluent English. He was part of a Partner Cities delegation visiting Camas. The group arrived on Sept. 13, and included professionals from the cities of Krapkowice, Morawica and Zabierzow in Poland; Lipova Lazne in the Czech Republic and Wissen, Germany.

The official partnership between Poland and Camas has been in existence since May 2004, when then-Mayor Paul Dennis signed a declaration of cooperation with the intent to: “Seek to establish and develop effective cooperation between the towns’ communities, institutions and trade. We are aware that this cooperation is a major factor in popularizing and promoting our town and that it opens up new perspectives for European and transatlantic integration.”

Nearly 10 years later, that partnership is still going strong, said retired City Administrator Lloyd Halverson, who now serves as the Partner Cities coordinator.

“There’s a good deal of effort from a pretty big team to coordinate these visits,” he said.

The delegates stayed with host families during their visit to Camas. In addition to stopping by local tourist sites, businesses and City Hall, the delegates also met with several Clark County mayors, went to the Seattle area for two days, toured Microsoft and Boeing, and visited with the organizer of the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce. Other activities included sightseeing by train and a cruise, and being the honored guests at the Portland Polish Festival.

The visit was co-sponsored by the city of Camas and the Camas Sister City Association. Halverson serves as its vice president.

“Professionally speaking, these visitors are gifted leaders and I like to learn from others,” he said. “Personally, there are ties of friendship and affection. In a big world with big problems, focusing on this can make a contribution to the kind of better world we all want to have.”

Halverson added that the Polish have managed to transform their society in the course of one generation, with almost no violence.

“They are part of the West again and have a democracy,” he said. “And they have always been good friends of America, even when they were told they couldn’t be.” The desire to establish positive relationships was evident during a reception at the Camas Public Library last week.

“I have never been to the United States before and the people here are so friendly and open,” said Lubomir Zmolik, mayor of Lipova Lazne. “The hospitality is great and so are the roads. In my village, it is very beautiful and we have people who want to visit, but we need better transportation for the tourists.”

Added Andrzej Kasiura, mayor of Krapkowice, “We have a 10-year partnership and Camas is a beautiful city with great industry. WaferTech was amazing. I was impressed with the leadership of the council and mayor. Step by step, they make a vision. In our city, we also need a good plan and other development.”

Currently, major industries are a paper mill and shoe factory.

“We need more,” he said. “We have good connections but need to diversify.”

Marcin Dziewiecki, deputy mayor of Morawica, has never been to the United States. He was “impressed,” after his tour of Camas.

“I didn’t know that the city of Camas had new buildings, new companies and so many new areas for the people to move to,” he said. “I was really impressed with the open spaces. We need to make changes in the infrastructure (at home) to manage growth. I want to learn more about this process here so I can bring it back to my city.”

Mayor Scott Higgins participated in several of the local events, including hosting Mayor Kasiura and his daughter, Anna.

“I always learn something from a visit,” he said. “I believe that there is great value in observing other leaders, seeing their abilities, and trying to add that to my style of leadership. Every time I am around other leaders, I gain understanding and I hope that makes me better. From my experiences, I have been motivated to bring several ideas back and try them in our community.”