FARMER CITY — Farmer City Mayor Mike Jenkins has called off a trip to China that was intended to help bring back business to his city and DeWitt County.
"Farmer City has communicated to me that they do not believe the China trip is in our best interest. If Farmer City does not want us to go, we simply will not go," Jenkins said. "We represent the citizens of Farmer City and we desire to reflect the values of our town. We hope and work for the best of our community."
The issue was first raised in early June at a city council meeting when Ruth Stauffer of the DeWitt County Development Council invited two Farmer City officials to travel with a group in October to China. The purpose of the trip was to make new business contacts and potentially bring back jobs to the area.
A few days after the council meeting, Jenkins posted on the Farmer City mayoral Facebook page that he and Councilman Josh Hawn would be going to China.
The majority of citizens who commented on the announcement were opposed, leading Jenkins to cancel the trip.
"The whole purpose was to go to China to tell the Chinese officials that the community supports them. I cannot go to China and tell them exactly that when I know outright that the community does not support that," Jenkins said.
Farmer City resident Sally Williams says she's against the trip to China and paying for it out of taxpayer money.
"I don't think we should be in any way recruiting for workers and for businesses from other countries. I'm just morally opposed to going out of the country when our own country needs help," Williams said.
Williams said even if a new business would employ American workers, she doubted the big salaries would go to them.
Rick Sullivan, owner of Kathy's Collision Center in Clinton, was present at the meeting in early June and said the idea was a waste of taxpayer's dollars.
"What I want is for people to stop spending my tax dollars to go to China when it will absolutely do us no good," Sullivan said. He said he would rather see the county development council "stay at home and nurture the businesses you have at home."
Along with members of the development council, representatives from Morton, Peoria, Pekin, and Richland County will be going on the trip.
The development council offered to cover the cost for one Farmer City Council member to attend but said the city would have to cover the $3,000 for the other official to go.
At the meeting, Stauffer said the 20 acres the city owns near Interstate 74 would likely be a draw for the foreign businesses because it's a "perfect spot for light industrial or commercial" business. "Our workforce is good, our workforce is healthy, our schools are good. All of these things are important to the Chinese," she said.
Council member Pat Pearl questioned whether any Chinese businesses would even be interested in relocating.
"This isn't a long shot. This is doable. That's why we've chosen this trip to go on," Stauffer said.