A delegation with the city of Erie will leave Saturday, to visit our sister city in Zibo, China.

Over the next week, they’ll be meeting with Zibo government leaders, the cultural community, and those in the health and business worlds. They’ll also be taking tours and giving presentations about Erie.

It's all to reignite the city's relationship with Zibo, to spur economic growth, and the city says they're making it happen without using any city taxpayer dollars.

Erie Mayor Joe Schember along with Chris Groner, the city's Director of Economic and Community Development, are leading the delegation, which will spend eight days in Zibo.

Joining them will be local businessman, Glen Renaud; a translator, Lihong Ni; and Erie Activist, Gary Horton. Horton has established a relationship with folks from our sister city, because he was involved with the Zibo sister city relationship under the Mayor Joyce Savocchio administration. They will all be paying their own way.

It’s been 12 years since a delegation from Erie has visited our sister city in China.

Groner says the hope is to spur economic growth here in Erie, “It (Zibo, China) is an economy that is too large for us to ignore, we have to be engaged with this and we have to look beyond just our own city limits for new investment, and new opportunities, so I think it's a good use of our resources, it's a good use of our time.”

In recent years, Mayor Schember says more than 1,000 high school and college students from Zibo have come to Erie to study, pumping millions into our economy.

And Groner says many local companies do business in China, specifically local manufacturing companies.

So this visit is all about taking that further. To reestablish relationships, and firm up those economic connections, “We're really hoping over time, they're going to see some investments here that they want to invest in, and there’s some initiatives that really reward them for investing in the United States as well, they get a return on that investment,” said Schember. “I don't expect to come back from this trip to Zibo with any money on this trip, but a year or two years down the road, we're hoping for some major investment right here in Erie,” Schember continued.

The administration says the entire trip is expected to cost the city approximately $2,500, for the mayor and Groner to go, with Zibo graciously paying for their lodging, and most meals.

They’re using interest earned from a federal grant they got more than 30 years ago to pay for it, “City tax dollars are not paying for any of this, these funds have to be used for urban economic development activities, that is mandated,” said Groner. “So whether we went or not, those funds would be sitting in that line item, because they cannot be co-mingled with city dollars, they cannot go to our operating budget…whether we went or not would have zero impact on the city's budget,” Groner continued.

The contingent will leave on Saturday and arrive in Zibo on Monday, April 15th. They plan to return home on April 21st.

As we reported, Horton is going on the trip with city leaders, after just settling a 2016 lawsuit. The mayor's administration and Horton recently agreed to a settlement, to end the lawsuit, with the city agreeing to pay him a $3,000. Horton walked into a street sign, which displayed directions on how to cross the street, and claimed the city was negligent, in placing the sign too low.