Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland is returning to her roots — some 5,200 miles away.
“It’s my first trip to Seoul, basically since I was born,” the mayor told me recently.
Strickland’s visit to her birthplace is the first leg of the mayor’s three-city Asian tour to promote Tacoma abroad. From Seoul, the mayor’s 10-day trip, which begins tomorrow, will include stops in Shanghai and Fuzhou, China. The mayor will meet various dignitaries in all three cities along the way.
During her travels, Strickland also plans to share highlights from her recent state of the city address, and to “discuss Tacoma’s favorable business climate (access to rail, the port, availability of land, low utility rates, a workforce with experience in manufacturing, a strong higher education system).”
Although the mayor will be traveling on official city business, she and other city officials said she won’t incur any expenses on the taxpayer’s dime.
Strickland, who is traveling alone to Seoul, will be flying for free, thanks to the frequent-flyer miles of Lakewood businessman Ron Chow.
Chow, a co-founder and president of Seattle Pacific Trading who’s now involved with Tacoma’s World Trade Center, is a frequent business traveler to China who has organized various trade delegations for Washington politicians. He has taken an interest in Tacoma’s international trading potential and plans to meet up with Strickland during her stop in Shanghai, she said.
“I am paying for lodging and incidentals,” Strickland added.
From Shanghai, the mayor will travel to Tacoma’s sister city – Fuzhou – before returning home on March 6.
While in Fuzhou, which recently gifted to Tacoma a pavilion for the city’s new Chinese reconciliation park, Strickland will rendezvous with Debbie Bingham, the city’s representative to the Sister Cities International program.
(Like with Strickland, none of the travel expenses for Bingham’s trip, which is a separate trip organized by the Sister Cities program, are being paid for by the city, city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff told me today.)
While serving as a city council member two years ago, Strickland traveled to South Korea during a goodwill trip to another of Tacoma’s sister cities, Gunsan. But the mayor has never set foot in her birth city since leaving it when she was about one and half years old, she said.
Born to a Korean mother and an African-American father stationed in Korea while serving in the Army, Strickland and her family moved from Seoul to the United States, eventually settling in South Tacoma when her father was transferred to Fort Lewis when she was four.
“I still have a cousin who lives in Seoul,” Strickland added. “… I am definitely going to spend time with her while I’m there.”