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Local officials to head for Kosovo

Trip will build ties with Fort Dodge’s sister city

Three local leaders will journey to the European country of Kosovo this weekend, where they will spend several days exchanging ideas with people in Gjakova, the community that is a sister city to Fort Dodge.

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said he expects the trip will ”really open up opportunities.”

”First and foremost, when we entered the sister city agreement I wanted it to have real and true meaning that would help the city of Gjakova and Fort Dodge,” he said. ”I think this type of trip will broaden that relationship and make it stronger.”

He’ll be joined on the trip by Chad Schaeffer, the city’s director of engineering, business affairs and community growth; and Dan Kinney, the president of Iowa Central Community College.

They will be part of a larger Iowa delegation led by state Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey that will also include representatives of Des Moines Area Community College, Ankeny; Drake University, Des Moines; Greater Des Moines Partnership; Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo; Iowa Sister States; and the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

A combination of city money budgeted for the sister city program, funds from the Iowa Sister States organization and private donations will pay for the local group’s travel expenses, Bemrich said.

The group will leave Saturday on a 29-hour trip that will include stops in Chicago, Illinois; Munich, Germany; and Zurich, Switzerland; before arriving in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, on Sunday.

On Monday, the entire delegation will be in Pristina for meetings on economic development, trade and general coordination of efforts between Iowa and Kosovo, according to Bemrich.

Then Bemrich, Kinney and Schaeffer will head for Gjakova. Fort Dodge and Gjakova entered a sister city agreement in December 2016 that commits the two communities to cooperate on city development, cultural, economic and academic matters.

Gjakova is a city of about 100,000 people that was first settled in the 14th century. It is noted for textile production.

In Gjakova, the three will visit textile plants, the airport, schools, and the hospital.

Bemrich said they’ll talk to local leaders in Gjakova about ways to finance infrrastructure improvements, especially relating to the water system. He said water mains there are about one-inch in diameter and fire hydrants are so scarce that the city’s firefighters have to pump water from ponds to put out fires. Although it’s a smaller city, Fort Dodge has water mains as big as 10 inches in diameter and hundreds of fire hydrants.

The mayor added that he’ll give the Gjakova officials some information on the smoke detector installation drives that Fort Dodge firefighters conduct.

An art exchange between Fort Dodge and Gjakova will also be discussed. Bemrich said Eric Anderson, the director of the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, ”worked very hard on this and has been in contact with museums in Kosovo.”

Kinney said he’s looking forward to finding out what kinds of partnerships can be created with educational institutions in Kosovo.

”Is there something we can partner up on and be stronger?” he asked.

Kinney said he doesn’t think Kosovo has American style community colleges. He said Kosovo does have trade schools linked to high schools.

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