John Drury is the human form of a baseball automatic pitching machine. He just keeps throwing ideas out there, one after another after another.
Some land right over home plate. Others, not so close.
His plan for an amphitheater on the shore of Lake Dora in downtown was defeated last week by voters, but the initiative did better than expected. In these economic times, I was looking for a slam-dunk of 75 percent against issuing bonds that would cost taxpayers over 30 years and 25 percent in favor. But it turned out that 46 perfect of voters liked the project, and 54 percent did not, a spread of only 8 points.
Meanwhile, Drury was winding up for his next pitch.
This one involved sending Mayor Robert Wolfe and Wolfe's wife to Taiwan. The cost: more than $5,000.
Normally, a junket of this magnitude halfway around the globe would call for open derision. But, like nearly everything else in Drury's playbook, this one is well thought out.
Through the Sister Cities International program, Tavares was matched with Xindian City, a community of nearly 300,000 people that Drury said is more wealthy than the average. The Taiwanese are paying for the Wolfes' hotel and meals, and Tavares covered the cost of the airfare and everything else for the weeklong stay.
Even before City Council members approved the sister-city proposal, the city and the Tavares Rotary Club had developed a relationship with Taiwan through its annual Central Florida Dragon Boat Festival racing event.
The most recent festival included an appearance by Taiwan's then-Director General Miguel Li-Jey Tsao of Miami, who traveled to Tavares with an entourage for a ceremonial signing at the event.
The proceeds from the festival helped to bring to Tavares Middle School the Taiwanese Youth Folk Sports Troupe, a group of students who perform traditional sports such as jumping rope, twirling tops and spinning diabolos with high-energy music and vibrant, traditional costumes.
'They love baseball'
So was the inaugural sister-city trip all just bowing and handshaking and photo ops?
Not if Drury has his way.
He sees the trip as the start of possible trade between the cities in four areas, the most promising being a $4.3 million sports facility for kids retired major-league baseball player Chet Lemon wants to build across from Tavares Middle School. Lemon has acquired the property and is working on getting permits from the city, Drury said.
"I know they love baseball," Drury said of the Taiwanese. "And I know they like Chet Lemon."
Drury said that might be enough for match for a Taiwanese investor interested in America to consider throwing some cash in Lemon's project.
An investment of $500,000 from a foreigner that helps to create at least 10 jobs in the U.S. allows the investor to get an American visa that permits him or her to enter the county at any time and to live here.
That's an attractive proposition for a wealthy person in Taiwan, where shaky relations with China leave the country perpetually anxious about attack or invasion.
Three other possibilities could lure Taiwan investors, or governments, too, Drury said.
First, G&T Conveyor, which markets airport-luggage systems, is a natural for foreign trade. Second, the medical support system, including facilities such as places that provide MRI tests, for instance, is of interest to foreign investors, and businesses connected with
Waterman are expected to continue growing.
And third, Progressive Aerodyne, which makes seaplane kits in a facility on the south side of the city, already has a sales representative in Beijing, China. For now, the company makes only the kits — it cannot fully assemble the plane under
But the SeaRey maker expects to get FAA approval within 12 months to begin building the entire craft. And since far more buyers want the craft than the kit, business is expected to take off in the Asia market, where seaplanes are particularly handy. A spinoff company already has been created, and Taiwanese investors could be a natural.
No random choice
Is this all tentative? Absolutely.
But might it also result in something economically profitable for Tavares? Oh, yes. Pairing up with Taiwan isn't a random choice. It builds on a relationship that already exists, and that's smart.
Drury said that New Bedford, Mass., is the sister city to Mindelo, Sao Vincente, in the small island republic of Cape Verde, off the African coast. The prince of that country got so interested in New Bedford, "Whaling Capital of the World," that he invested in fish canneries there as a result of the relationship.
For now, Tavares will just see how things develop before spending more cash.
"We'll quarterback it in a year from now," Drury said. "If you're aggressive with this sister-city relationship and you're on it, it can produce results.
"If the relationship is more ceremonial in nature, then you have to be careful on what you want to spend."
Meanwhile, Wolfe has met the president and prime minister of Taiwan, a country of 23 million people, slightly larger than Florida's 18.5 million. He's toured a variety of cultural and historical sites, and most interestingly, has checked out a biotech incubator and software park.
Wolfe should be back in town today. He'll be reporting on his trip soon to the council.