GOSHEN -- Elkhart County now has a sibling in China.
Elkhart County Commissioner Terry Rodino, recently back from a trip to China, said Monday that he inked a "sister city" agreement while there with officials from the Asian giant's Jinwau region.
For now, the accord calls mainly for cultural exchanges, but Rodino holds out hope for more.
Provincial government officials from Zhejiang province in eastern China visited Elkhart County last March, a precursor to Rodino's trip. The county commissioner said business officials from Jinwau, a smaller geographic area than the province, are planning to come to Elkhart County.
"They were already calling us before we left to let us know they're interested," said Rodino, who visited for a week, getting back last Friday.
He sees "huge potential," noting the heavy automotive and related industries in the Jinwau area, comparable to Elkhart County and the recreational vehicle and bus manufacturers here.
"I was amazed at all the American stuff they're putting in their buses," said Rodino.
Aside from visiting a bus maker, Rodino met with local government and business leaders. He said he bankrolled the trip himself and traveled as a delegation of one, though he had a translator and guide.
The visit here from Zhejiang leaders took place late last March and consisted mainly of government trade officials.
They met with Dr. Doug Schwartzentruber and other officials at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care, among others.
The next visit, Rodino said, likely will consist of business leaders and officials from the health industry.
A businessman with ties to China and Elkhart County helped foster the cross-cultural links, according to Joseph Gagliardi, senior vice president at the cancer center. He characterized the relationship with the Chinese as being in the "getting-to-know-each-other phase."
Rodino said the business draws to Elkhart County area for the Chinese include the automotive-related industries here, the central U.S. location and the transportation infrastructure, notably the Indiana Toll Road.