WORTHINGTON - A diplomat from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be paying a visit to Worthington later this month, and city officials are eager for what they hope represents the start of a fruitful relationship.
Francois Nkuna Balumuene and his delegation are expected to arrive in Worthington on the evening of Nov. 29 and depart the morning of Dec. 1. He will be met in St. Paul on the morning of the 29th by Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson and Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Abraham Algadi, and they will travel southwest to Worthington together following meetings in the capital city.
Algadi explained the WREDC is in the midst of working with the Minnesota Trade Office, along with regional partners, to “highlight the importance of this visit as a first step toward building cultural and economic engagement between Worthington and Congolese partners.” That effort is being coordinated, in part, through a connection with Abdiwahab Mohamed, regional trade manager for Africa, the Middle East and India in the MInnesota Trade Office.
As Worthington is home to a number of international companies - among them Boheringer Ingelheim, Merck and JBS - and also has healthy manufacturing and animal vaccine sectors, city leaders feel like there’s no shortage of opportunity for the Congolese here and around the region.
“The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the 11th largest company in the world and holds huge potential for international trade sectors such as renewable energy, battery technology, agriculture and food production,” Algadi said. “Minnesota in general and southwest Minnesota in particular have the potential to create crucial links with Congolese government, research institutions and businesses to their mutual benefits.”
Added Kuhle: “This will be an opportunity to showcase our community and to give our business community exposure.”
Interaction with Balumuene is slated to begin with a meeting scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 29 in St. Paul with Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. That will be followed by a lunch that’s expected to include officials from the Minnesota Trade Office, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, among possible others.
An open house is subsequently scheduled from 6 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Worthington Event Center to welcome Balumuene, who is addressed as “His Excellency.” The event is open to WREDC members and non-members alike.
On Nov. 30, the business community is invited to a lunch roundtable slated for 11:30 a.m. at the Event Center.
“The business community will meet the ambassador and talk about what they do and talk about opportunities here in general,” Algadi said.
Robinson said he’s looking forward to what he believes will be a positive interaction.
“Our expectations are that we may identify potential opportunities that would be mutually beneficial to both the DRC and southwest Minnesota business assets,” he said.
The chance to host the Congolese ambassador came about through a connection with Worthington resident Mcnay Nkishama, whose wife Nathalie opened World Mart this past June on Worthington’s Diagonal Road.
“For our community to interact with the highest-level diplomat from the 11th-largest country in the world is an opportunity to explore,” Kuhle said. “It’s a chance for our businesses to showcase themselves to the world, and for our businesses to explore a new market as well.”
Algadi said tours of some local businesses could be possibly scheduled after the Nov. 30 luncheon, which would give Balumuene the firsthand chance to see a variety of operations. A formal dinner intended to “focus on showcasing Worthington’s diversity,” he stated, will take place in the evening.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure what the outcome or relationship will look like,” Kuhle said. “With the ag/bioscience, manufacturing and medical businesses that we have here in southwest Minnesota, there could be long-term relationships that could gain traction in the DRC. I believe we should continue to explore this opportunity.”
“It’s an honor to have a prestigious foreign diplomat visit us,” Robinson added. “This is truly a rare opportunity.”