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Bolognas the buzzword for our next sister city

You can never have too many friends, a wise person once said.

This is true for people, as well as for cities, and it's one reason why the Portland-Bologna Sister City Association was formed.

As the association chairman, it's my hope that the rest of Portland will become as excited about this as we are. On Wednesday, the Portland City Council will vote to endorse the city's newest sister-city relationship. Bologna's council will hold its vote in the near future.

I'd like to explain some of the benefits that both Portland and Bologna will enjoy by joining forces. But first, some background:

Portland has established relationships with nine other sister cities around the globe in countries such as Mexico and Japan. This will be Oregon's first sister city in Europe.

'The best relationships are ones that have strong community support, so we think that this will be a successful relationship,' said Phyllis Oster, director of international relations for the city of Portland.

About 30,000 Italian-Americans live in the area. More than a year ago, city Commissioner Jim Francesconi urged us to start exploring the possibility of creating an Italian sister-city relationship.

Our large volunteer board includes Commissioner Francesconi; Joe D'Alessandro, chief executive officer of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association; and international lawyer Andrea Bartoloni, who also serves as Italy's honorary vice consul for this area.

We selected Bologna because of the similarities between the two cities.

Bologna has about 500,000 residents. Its art museum and university are major players in the community. It considers mass transit to be one of its biggest challenges. Its university has an affiliated medical facility that conducts breakthrough research on leukemia. Does some of this sound familiar?

Coincidentally, Nike has moved its Italian headquarters to Bologna. The city also is home to Ferrari, which has a large dealership in this area. The Slow Food movement, which emphasizes culinary excellence, started in Bologna and has spread to Portland in the past few years.

Our association has filed for nonprofit status and is establishing different levels of membership and planning fund-raising events and a membership drive.

Yes, this will be a lot of fun for all involved, but we want this relationship to provide economic value to both cities by stimulating trade and commerce. We plan to help foster links between our regions' universities, museums, film industries, vineyards and tourism industries. The list of possible collaborations is lengthy.

We are working closely with Lufthansa, which has established nonstop service to Frankfurt, Germany, a one-hour flight from Bologna. We think that the sister-city relationship can be a significant boost to maintaining this service.

We have encountered lots of enthusiasm for this idea both inside and outside of the Italian community here.

'The Italian-American community is so strong in this town,' said Oster, who works closely with all the sister-city partnerships. 'I have great faith that it will be able to sustain a long-term relationship.'

The relationships that have been the most successful for Portland are the ones that can bring cultural influences into the whole community, Oster said.

For example, the Guadalajara, Mexico, association is the driving force behind Portland's successful Cinco de Mayo Festival, one of the largest in the nation. The popular dragon boat races are organized by the Kaohsiung, Taiwan, group. Portland's relationship with Suzhou, China, resulted in the beautiful Portland Classical Chinese Garden in Old Town.

'Sister cities provide us with opportunities to get to know different cultures. Without them, we would be lacking in so many ways,' Oster said. 'And with the ever-increasing importance of the global marketplace, these friendships provide us with unique economic development opportunities.'

I hope you'll join us in this effort.

George Passadore is chairman of Wells Fargo in Oregon and

chairman of the Portland-Bologna Sister City Association.