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Officials to talk biz on China trip

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's commission chairman, along with members of the Chamber of Commerce, will travel to China this week to promote economic development.

Officials have meetings scheduled with government and business leaders in several cities, and a press conference has already been scheduled to announce a Chinese business expansion to Gwinnett.

"We need to do this," said Nick Masino, the head of the chamber's Partnership Gwinnett effort, who said the floundering economy makes economic development even more important.

While Chairman Charles Bannister did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment Monday, Masino said the Partnership Gwinnett program, which is partially funded through county tax dollars, is paying for the trip, which also includes stops in South Korea.

There, a ceremony will be held to officially enter into a sister city agreement with the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul. Leaders from that community visited Gwinnett last year.

The trip comes just two days after commissioners will vote on up to $20 million in cuts in the 2009 budget. Officials are trying to slash the budget because commissioners voted against a proposed tax increase to boost public safety, but the millage rate has still not been set.

But Masino said the trip would be hard to reschedule, and the chairman's role is critical, especially in China, where business executives report to government leaders.

"It's absolutely imperative the chairman come, who is the head of our government," he said. "If you don't have government buy-in from the American side, you aren't taken seriously."

The 15-day trip has been in the works for three months, and Masino, a former mayor himself, said the government's budget issue will be resolved, as will a now three-month-long court dispute between county and city leaders.