In March, there was the trip to Senegal and Gambia. Now, the next exotic stop for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is likely to be the Middle Kingdom: China.
"There's a plan for him to travel in late October," said Patricia Hayes-Parker, vice president of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation.
"We are reaching out to the Asian markets," she said.
As Hayes-Parker spoke, delegates in crisp business suits from China's eastern Shandong Province smiled, shook hands and posed for photos in the development agency's spacious office in Largo.
They were the latest group of foreigners Prince George's officials have wooed to boost trade and investment in the county. In the past two years, county officials have reached out to countries in Africa, South America and Europe. In Asia, they have made contacts in Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand.
Johnson, Hayes-Parker said, is expected to visit Shandong Province as well as Beijing and Shanghai, although the plans are not finalized. Among other opportunities, county officials are hoping that Prince George's firms can break into the Chinese market through winning contracts for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Yan Zhaowan, a foreign trade official from Shandong Province, said he wanted to encourage connections with Prince George's to help boost imports of Chinese garments and textiles. Shandong, where the philosopher Confucius was born, is also home to one of China's most popular beers, Tsingtao.
Yan said that Chinese companies could also be interested in establishing overseas operations in Prince George's County's foreign trade zone. The zone, in Bowie, is in the process of being activated. It would, among other things, offer tax breaks to companies that import goods, making their products more competitive.
"Prince George's is a very good place," Yan said. "They have significant assets and a very good location."
And what about the county's much-discussed crime problems?
"I feel Prince George's is very secure," Yan said. "We haven't found any trouble. "
Soon it was time to leave. A delegation from Nigeria was expected in three hours.
Burnishing the Badge
Johnson has moved one of his media specialists from Upper Marlboro to police headquarters in Palmer Park to help polish the image of the department, which is understaffed and dealing with a steadily rising murder rate.
This month, Administrative Specialist Sharon Taylor moved into an office suite that she now shares with Barbara Hamm, the director of the police communications office. Hamm was hand-picked for her job by Police Chief Melvin C. High when he took over the force in 2003. Taylor moved to the department to help promote the agency, as well as bolster the officer recruitment campaign, said county spokesman John Erzen.
Taylor, former director of public relations for US Airways, has been employed by the county for about a year, working on projects such as the twice-a-year newsletter.
"We don't need to recount the challenges we face needing to hire more police officers," Taylor said. "Our goal is to reduce crime, and in the meantime have people focus on a number of things we're doing well. It's challenging, because the crime story is so sensational."
As of Monday, there were113 homicides this year in the county, compared with 92 at this time last year.