Panhandle to gain international acclaim

September 09, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Eastern Panhandle would become a vacation destination for visitors from the Far East if a recent trade mission by the president of the West Virginia International Trade Development Council has its intended effect.

President John Unger recently returned from a two-month trip to Hong Kong, China and the Philippines that began with the handover of the former crown colony to China on July 1. Unger, who had twice worked in Hong Kong, told the WVITDC Monday that the Eastern Panhandle could be featured in a travelogue program next year.

"I'm friends with the production executive," Unger explained after the meeting. He said the series is being produced by the Television Broadcasts Network, Hong Kong's biggest broadcaster. Three American destinations would be featured in the show - Chicago, the West Coast and the Eastern Panhandle.


During the trip he also met with a number of travel agencies to try and convince them to include the three counties on their tours. He said Far East visitors to the eastern United States often visit New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlantic City, N.J., but the Panhandle provides opportunities in retail sales, resorts and eco-tourism, or "back to nature," Unger explained. The outlet malls provide visitors a chance to shop for name-brand American goods at low prices and without high import duties.

"I was impressed with how much everything American is loved in Hong Kong," said Mary Lou Trump, the council's vice president. She had visited there during the transition and said there was plenty of evidence of American culture, particularly among young people.

Unger also reported that the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is interested in doing a market study of the region that would identify local companies suitable for joint ventures or trade with Hong Kong and China. During the trip he also made contacts with more than 60 businesses in Hong Kong and the Philippines, trying foster relationships between them and West Virginia companies.

Hong Kong's International Trade Resource Center has also agreed to begin trading information with the council's resource center, which has facilities at the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library and the library at Shepherd College.

Some members of the council expressed concern over the stability of Hong Kong in the aftermath of the takeover. "As far as business relations go, they have a very high level of autonomy," Unger assured them.

"If they violate the agreements, it would complicate the Taiwan issue," added council member Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III. If China violated the terms of the takeover agreement, it would be a setback in its efforts to bring the former province back under its dominion.

Formed at the beginning of the year by the economic development authorities of the Eastern Panhandle, the WVITDC hosted its first trade delegation in February. The group was composed of dairy industry executives from Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Thursday it will host another delegation from Russia. This time executives from fruit-growing and processing companies will be touring orchards and supermarkets in the Panhandle.

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