Jan 19, 2016 09:59AM
By Danielle Herzog
When George Behringer retired as a certified public accountant from PricewaterhouseCoopers 13 years ago, he had no idea that he’d end up busier than when he was working full-time. As Honorary Consul General of Japan at Omaha, Behringer is working daily to help bridge a greater understanding and respect for Omaha’s sister city of Shizouka, Japan.
It’s a relationship that started years before Behringer took over the position in 2010 from Dr. Ron Roskens, who served as president of the University of Nebraska system from 1977 to 1989. The partnership originated 50 years ago when the downtown Rotary Club of Omaha recognized that the city needed to become more global and move towards developing new international economic opportunities.
Motivated not only by the desire to understand other cultures, these forward-thinkers wanted to look at ways to expand their businesses and encourage new ventures that offered the chance for Nebraska to be an option for overseas companies.
And Shizouka seemed like the perfect match. With their main industry being that of agricultural development, Shizouka was a city with businesses and practices that aligned well with Omaha.
But that relationship didn’t come easy.
Omaha had to go through what Behringer calls a “beauty contest.” Other cities were interested in establishing that union, but Shizouka saw the great potential in Omaha and ultimately selected the city for a partnership.
It’s been a partnership that has served both cities extremely well. “Overall, Omaha’s projected a better global image as a result of the sister city relationship to welcome foreign direct investments into the Omaha area,” Behringer explains. That includes attracting companies like Gavilon, a global grain-trading business purchased by Marubeni in 2013, and Solutionary, a security services provider purchased by Nippon Telephone & Telegraph (NTT) in 2013. Both businesses were operating in Omaha prior to being acquired by Japanese companies.
Behringer’s role is that of a diplomat. After originally being recommended by Dr. Roskens, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs interviewed Behringer, then submitted his name to the U.S. Department of State for approval. He’s just been reappointed for a second term of building bridges between Nebraska and Japan.
Perhaps Behringer’s most ambitious undertaking to date is the 50th anniversary celebration occurring this year. Shizuoka has sent more than 100 emissaries to participate in the celebration, and Omaha has sent more than 60 counterparts to Japan to participate in cross-anniversary events. Following the anniversary, Behringer’s goals are to expand such initiatives as educational exchanges, cultural activities like Ikebana flower arranging, Japanese culinary arts and language programs in area high schools, and the American Japanese School in Omaha—all built on a foundation of promoting trade between Nebraska and Japan.
The program has also expanded to six other cities around the world. Omaha now also has sister city relationships in Germany (Braunschweig), Lithuania (Šiauliai), Ireland (Naas), Mexico (Xalapa), and, most recently, China (Yantai).
Behringer believes the key to a successful sister city relationship isn’t in economics or businesses, but rather the people.
“People are respectful,” he says, “and they are curious about Americans. It’s through them that the sister city relationships have been sustained. The leaders and mayor of Shizuoka have been so supportive and we are grateful for that relationship.”
Visit omahasistercities.com to learn more.