Leaders from Kyrgyzstan visit with Toledo-area counterpartsWritten by Erik Gable | | email@example.com
Five officials from rural Kyrgyzstan spent a week in Ohio earlier this month, exchanging ideas and inspiration with their counterparts from the Toledo area.
The March 9-17 trip was hosted by the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development with funding from the Open World program, an initiative started by the U.S. Congress that brings leaders from the former Soviet Union to the U.S.
“All of them came to learn how their counterparts at the local level are developing the local economy,” said Sheradil Baktygulov, who joined the delegates as a facilitator.
Elizabeth Balint, project manager for the Great Lakes Consortium, said the group met with a variety of officials from different levels of government, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, state Rep. Teresa Fedor, Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Administrator Peter Ujvagi, and city officials from Maumee, Fremont, Perrysburg, Bowling Green and Oregon.
Kyrgyzstan is a poor country, Balint said, but has beautiful mountains that create potential for the tourism industry. She said the country needs help with marketing to reach a wider audience; one challenge, she added, is that Internet access is more limited than in the U.S. and many organizations can’t afford to develop their own websites.
Balint said the delegates were glad to see the level of independence from federal and state authorities enjoyed by local governments in the U.S.
They took home a number of ideas, she said, both from their meetings with local officials and from cultural visits to places like the Toledo Zoo, Maumee Bay State Park, Marblehead Lighthouse and Toledo Museum of Art.
Balint said the delegates were especially impressed with the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen, a nonprofit commercial kitchen facility that serves as an incubator for food-related entrepreneurial ventures, and asked for help developing a similar program in Kyrgyzstan.
Balint said the visitors stayed with host families in Toledo, Sylvania, Perrysburg and Bowling Green.
Balint said the Great Lakes Consortium was established in 1999 and has hosted more than 850 visitors from 17 different countries in that time. The consortium is a collaboration between the University of Toledo, Lourdes University, Bowling Green State University and the WSOS Community Action Commission.