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Some see hope in officials' China trip

LAWRENCEVILLE - Instead of budget cuts and tax hikes, Patrick Malone sees another way out of the budget crisis that has gripped Gwinnett's government.

"I think there is a parallel option, and that is to grow our way out," the Snellville man said to commissioners Tuesday, commending Chairman Charles Bannister's decision to go to China on an economic development mission. "I think it's absolutely critical."

On Thursday, Bannister will travel with Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran and Nick Masino, the chamber's director of economic development, to the developing nation. The 15-day trip will include meetings with government and business leaders and at least one announcement of a company bringing jobs to Gwinnett. The trip will also includes stops in South Korea, where the chairman will participate in a ceremony naming the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul as a sister city to Gwinnett.

"It's important to the economy of the county but not at the expense of the county," Bannister said, pointing out that the Partnership Gwinnett program at the Chamber is bearing the expense, which Masino declined to estimate Tuesday. (Partnership Gwinnett is partially funded by a county subsidy.)

Bannister said he is not worried about leaving during the current budget situation, where the county commission has not yet voted on a millage rate, and as city and county leaders continue a court battle over services. He will only miss a zoning hearing and said his staff can handle issues while he is gone.

"The timing of the trip is what it is. ... These are hard times. You folks (media) need to allow us the opportunity to do the job instead of pounding at us all the time," he said. "This is not something we put together lightly. It means a great deal to Gwinnett and future relationships in economic development."