Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Vermont delegation planning goodwill trip to Macedonia

MONTPELIER — State officials will join members of the Vermont National Guard on a goodwill trip to Macedonia next week, the third largest trip by a state delegation to the country.

The delegation, which will include state, business and education officials, will spend a week there in an attempt to strengthen the long-standing relationship with the Balkan region country.

Officials are scheduled to leave Saturday and return to Vermont six days later.

Capt. Keith Davio, a spokesman for the Vermont National Guard, said this latest trip has several purposes, including introducing members of the state's educational and business entities to their counterparts in Macedonia.

"We've had a military relationship with them for several years and that effort is now expanding to different areas, including trade," Davio said. "This trip will build on what we've done there in the past."

Vermont has been affiliated with Macedonia since its emergence as a democratic country in the early 1990s from Yugoslavia's control, according to Col. Jonathan Farnham with the Vermont National Guard, who will be on the trip next week.

National Guard units from the state have spent time in Macedonia training the country's military and police force as part of a U.S. Department of Defense and North Atlantic Treaty Organization program.

"Our relationship has typically been mil-to-mil, but it is now branching out to different aspects such as civilian-to-civilian, education-to-education and business-to-business," Farnham said. "They have also sent delegations here to Vermont."

Macedonia, which has a population of just more than 2 million people, is similar to Vermont in many ways, according to Curtis Picard, the vice president of international trade for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. It is located on the Balkan peninsula, north of Greece.

Picard, who will be on the trip, said the state and the country are of similar geographical size and both have an economic focus on agriculture and tourism. He said there are many opportunities for Vermont to assist the country's economy.

Macedonia has seen growth in recent years in its cheese and wine production, Picard said, and officials there are looking to Vermont as an example on how to be successful in that area.

"They are pretty interested in the way Vermont does things," he said. "They are especially our success in marketing our region and products."

Macedonia has a hot and sunny temperature this time of year and is more similar to northern California than to the temperamental climate switches of the Green Mountain State, Farnham said.

But he agreed that Vermont and Macedonia have many similarities, including the country's Lake Ohrid, the deepest lake in the Balkan region that straddles a mountainous region in the southwest, which has many aspects in common with Lake Champlain.

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