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New London, Groton could become sister cities with Kingston, Jamaica

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A delegation from Kingston, Jamaica, toured New London and Groton on Friday, as the communities explore the possibility of becoming "sister cities."

At the State Pier facility in New London, local officials told the delegation about the harbor, the designation of Groton and New London as the "Thames River Innovation Place" and plans for expanded shipbuilding across the river at Electric Boat in Groton, among other developments.

From the bus, officials pointed out sites in downtown New London, Thames Street in the City of Groton and Eastern Point Beach, and stopped to take photos at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point with a view of the water in the background.

The delegation then visited ThayerMahan in Groton and went on a tug boat to escort the USS Toledo to the mouth of the Thames River.

"I have to tell you, Mayor, we were blown away," Hon. Alsion Wilson, consul general from Jamaica to New York, told New London Mayor Michael Passero at the reception at Hot Rod Cafe in New London following the tour.

The tour, which the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut helped organize, came as New London and Groton reached out to see if Kingston, Jamaica, would be interested in becoming "sister cities."

Groton Town Manager John Burt said the visit from the Kingston delegation was to investigate whether a sister city relationship would be beneficial to all parties.

"We're all very excited to show off our respective communities and to learn more about Kingston," he said.  

While the initiative is still in the exploratory phase, local officials said a sister city relationship could open up opportunities for shipping and economic development, technology-sharing between companies, and cultural and educational exchanges.

"We’d love to develop more of a direct relationship and a direct connection between Kingston and New London Harbor and not just the harbor, but the airport," Passero said, noting that Kingston is a major shipping hub and logistics center.

"This visit opens the door to further communications, which could result in investments here or additional trade that would benefit both Jamaica and southeastern Connecticut," added City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick.

Groton Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said by email that "Kingston is interested in exploring whether or not a working relationship with Groton is a good fit for their plan to become a logistics hub in the Western hemisphere. Groton could potentially benefit from increased economic development for our existing businesses and new enterprise."

She added that the Groton Town Council is always willing to explore new opportunities, and, of course, the staff and Council "will consider the entire impact of any proposed relationship to ensure that it would benefit the people of Groton."

Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams said it's important for Kingston to forge bonds with towns and cities across the globe, as Kingston is on a quest for knowledge and also is exploring opportunities for building friendships as well as looking for business opportunities and trade links. The ties with other cities and towns also are helpful as Kingston works to position itself as a "destination city," he said.

Williams said the delegation believes establishing ties with New London and Groton and other cities and towns in Connecticut is a "step in the right direction" and plans to form a small team to explore potential opportunities in education, culture, sports and business.

Kingston, Jamaica's capital city, is a UNESCO-designated Creative City of Music that has given the world six types of music, including reggae, he said. Many prominent sprinters also have come from Kingston, a cultural and commercial center of the Caribbean, he said.

Robert Hill, chief executive officer at Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation, called the relationship with Groton and New London "an absolute gem."

"It is an absolutely wonderful opportunity," he said.

Wilson said a potential sister city relationship could include such aspects as student exchange programs between universities in Kingston and Connecticut, shipping goods between Kingston and southeastern Connecticut, and opportunities for live cultural music, such as free reggae concerts.

Wilson said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney's office reached out to her about the potential sister city relationship, and Aundré Bumgardner, a Groton town councilor and aide to state Treasurer Shawn Wooden, said Wooden hand-delivered an invitation to Jamaica's prime minister.

Representatives from Courtney's office, Connecticut Airport Authority, Connecticut Economic Resource Center, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Electric Boat, Pfizer and University of Connecticut-Avery Point, the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations Inc. and the Caribbean Trade Council in Hartford were among those that participated Friday, either during the tour or reception.

The communities also reached out to Haifa, Israel, another major logistics hub, to see if there is interest in becoming sister cities, local officials said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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