On June 4, 2002, Leshan, China became Gilbert’s second sister city. A signing ceremony was held at the Gilbert Municipal Center and a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the goals of the relationship was signed by then Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman, then Leshan Mayor Huang Mingquan and Gilbert Sister Cities President Greg Tilque. A delegation of 13 government officials and businessmen and women accompanied Mayor Huang on the visit to Gilbert and meetings were set up with local businesses to discuss potential partnerships between the two communities. Delegation visits by Gilbert and Leshan have continued since that time, each serving to further enhance the connection between our communities. In October 2006, for example, a delegation visit led by then Councilman Larry Morrison and the former Gilbert Superintendent of Public Schools Brad Barrett sparked plans to add a class in Mandarin at a Gilbert high school. In August 2007, two classes in Mandarin were added to the curriculum at Desert Ridge High School.
Gilbert Sister Cities was approached early in 2000 by William (Bill) Meder, the President of Firebird Consulting, about the possibility of Gilbert entering into a sister city relationship with Leshan. Mr. Meder’s interest in Leshan stems from the fact that he located a semiconductor company to Leshan six years ago. That company, Leshan-Phoenix, is associated with ON Semiconductor (a spin-off from Motorola). Bill was asked by then Mayor Huang Mingquan to ask cities in metropolitan Phoenix about forming a Sister City partnership with Leshan. Bill, in turn, contacted Gilbert.
In August 2000, then Gilbert Mayor Dunham sent a letter to Leshan Mayor Huang expressing an interest in exploring the potential of forming a sister city relationship with Leshan. In response, Mayor Huang sent a letter to Mayor Dunham expressing a desire to move forward with the pursuit of a partnership and inviting a delegation to Leshan. Gilbert’s then Director of Economic Development, Greg Tilque (now Development Services Director) visited Leshan in November 2000 and, based on his recommendations, the Gilbert Sister Cities’ Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a Memorandum of Understanding between the two communities at their December 2, 2000 meeting. This recommendation was forwarded to the Gilbert Town Council and at their December 12th meeting, the Council endorsed the Board’s decision. Word came from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in early October of that year that they also had formally approved Leshan’s application for the establishment of a sister city with Gilbert.
Leshan is located in southwest China, in the Sichuan Province. It is a 2 1/2 hour flight south from Beijing to Chengdu (Phoenix’s Sister City) and another 1 1/2 hour drive south from there to Leshan. The sister city relationship is with the Leshan Municipality (close to our version of a county-they tend to use the terms municipality and city interchangeably so it is hard to follow some times) which has a territory of 4,920 square miles (approximately 12,800 square kilometers) and a population of 3.68 million. Under its jurisdiction are four districts, six counties and the City of Emeishan. The Sichuan Province has a population of between 80-85 million people.
Leshan City Proper is 318 square miles (825 square kilometers) in size and has a population of 533,000. The name Leshan means, “Pleased with the Place”. Leshan, known as Jiazhou in the ancient time, has a history of 3000 years. This old and developing city is very beautiful with the three rivers of Minjiang, Gingyi and Dadu converging within its confines.
Leshan is a mix of very old and very new. The older parts of the city contain many markets that serve the local population. They line the streets and offer a variety of foods as well as the freshest vegetables in the area. The main modes of transportation in these parts of town are on foot or bicycle. Farming is still the main industry of the outlying areas and the markets are a big part of everyday life in the area. Everything from poultry and fish to a wide variety of local produce are abundant. The high population puts limits on the amount of vehicles on the roads and usually the only people driving a vehicle, other than taxis and buses, are the ex-patriots, executives and government employees who are working there.
In direct contrast, the newer skylines of Leshan are decorated with high rise office towers, apartment buildings (leased) living flats (owned) and even an amusement park. The walkways along the riverbank are very nice and stretch the length of the shoreline
With the industries of medicine and chemistry, electronics, construction and decorating materials and tourism as its four economic pillars, the government leaders are determined to build Leshan into an international city with world renowned tourist attractions. With Mount Emei and the Leshan Grand Buddha in the center, the land of Leshan is clustered with many scenic resorts, nature reserves, and forest parks and key historical sites under protection. The construction of transportation and communication facilities is proceeding robustly. The Chengdu-Kunming Railway runs through five counties and districts. Passenger boats and 500 ton class freighters can sail from Leshan Harbor and Leshan Bulk Cargo Dock to all of the harbors along the Yangtze River. Chengdu-Leshan Expressway connects the city directly with the Shuangliu International Airport of Chengdu. The City’s own grid is powerful enough to meet its demand for electricity. Leshan abounds in hydroelectric resources with a potential power generating capacity of 4 million kW and is the major hydroelectric power-generating center in Sichuan.
Leshan has fostered friendly relations and economic cooperation with more than 50 cities worldwide. A large international man made forest industrial group, an international monetary group, companies from Malaysia, Norway and Thailand have opened enterprises in Leshan. Since 1994 the city has obtained upwards of $100 million of foreign investment every year.
As Leshan continues to evolve into a market driven economy they have a need to get information from other parts of the world as to the best way to do things, from running a government to protecting their resources. They also have a tremendous culture to share with the rest of the world. They are interested in exchanging performance troops with Gilbert and sharing the famous Sichuan Opera and other performing arts with our community. They have a lot to offer in this area. The people of Leshan are keenly interested in the arts, culture, foreign investment, and education, all of which are excellent starting points to a successful sister city relationship. There are many economic avenues to pursue including investment, consulting contracts, and even manufacturing. Since Phoenix has a sister city so close to Leshan there have already been conversations as to how Gilbert can leverage that 30-year relationship and Phoenix Sister Cities has been very willing to work with us on that issue.
The most recent step in the evolution of the relationship with Leshan began in 2010 when the student exchange program was instituted. Numerous student delegations from Leshan have visited Gilbert in recent years, and we look forward to returning the gesture.