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posted: 7/12/2014 1:01 AM

Chilean visit to Elgin last year sparked interest

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Although it wasn't a boon of economic opportunities, a visit to Elgin by a delegation of Chileans a year ago set in motion wheels that keep turning.

The four-person delegation from Cauquenes, Elgin's sister city, came over the Fourth of July holiday in 2013.

Cauquenes' budget for this year includes the purchase of a street sweeper from Elgin Sweeper Co. through its distributorship in Chile, Elgin Fire Department Lt. Bob Bedard said.

Bedard spearheaded the Sister Cities Elgin & Cauquenes nonprofit organization, which coordinates fundraising and donations of fire equipment to Cauquenes.

Representatives of Chicago-based Burns & McDonnell, who met the Chileans in Elgin, were in talks a few months ago about selling equipment to them, Bedard said.

An Elgin business owner expressed interest in using Chilean peppers in his products, while Chilean gloves and shawls gifted as a test to the store Soulful Sparrow in downtown Elgin sold well, he said.

However, establishing a permanent business pipeline takes money -- primarily for people to fly back and forth -- and effort, such as working on trade agreements, he said.

The city spent about $2,800 including staff time -- out of $3,800 initially approved -- for the Chileans' visit, an expense criticized by some as frivolous.

It also takes time for things to happen, Bedard said. "First, you plant the seeds," he said, also underlining the humanitarian aspect of the sister cities' relationship.

Educational opportunities are also in the works, he said.

Firefighters from Chile are expected to come to Elgin in October -- pending visa approvals -- for a week of study with Elgin's fire technical rescue team and a class at Elgin Community College, Bedard said.

That would cost about $1,500 per person, to be covered either by fundraising through the Sister Cities Elgin & Cauquenes nonprofit, or the Chileans -- or both, Bedard said.

Several people in Elgin have offered to host the Chilean firefighters, who might also stay at the Hampton Inn, he said.

Bedard said he is also looking into whether there's a way to recruit from Chile future bilingual instructors, a need expressed by Elgin Area School District U-46.

Additionally, the fire department in Rancagua, Chile, which Elgin firefighters visited about three years ago, purchased a $480,000 U.S.-made rescue squad last year. That was made possible by Elgin firefighters' role in training the Rancagua department, he said.

Rancagua also wants to buy a used fire engine at about $25,000, Bedard said. Any local fire department interested can call him at (847) 946-3380.

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