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Home > Projects > Mayor's Visit (2004) > America At Work

Russian Visitors See America At Work

By Amy Calder

WATERVILLE — The America of Vladimir Piskurev's imagination was a country marked by canyons, subways, cactuses and cowboys.

But after being in the United States for the first time, he has a much different view of this country.

"When we lived behind the Iron Curtain, we thought Americans were very unfriendly," he said. "But now we see that America is populated with wonderful people. There will be a moment in the future that we won't have any borders."

Piskurev, an appraiser from Moscow, is one of five Russians visiting Waterville to discuss economic development as part of a program made possible by a grant from the Library of Congress. The Russians, including Kotlas Mayor Alexsandr Shashurin and Deputy Mayor Andrey Bralnin, are being hosted by The Kotlas-Waterville Area Sister City Connection.

They arrived in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. On Monday, they toured downtown Waterville, lunched with the Waterville Rotary Club, met with Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and Central Maine Growth Council, discussed foreign trade zones with City Administrator Ronald J. Singel, flew over the greater Waterville area with Aerborne Aviation Capt. Brian McFarland and toured the Morning Sentinel.

For the next week, they will follow a rigorous schedule of attending events and discussing economic development strategies as required by the grant. They will meet with city officials and state legislators, visit the state capitol, meet business leaders, and tour business parks, schools and colleges.

Flying over Waterville in a twin-engine Piper Aztec six-seater, Shashurin got to see a long view of the Kennebec River and the Belgrade lakes, as well as Colby College, City Hall and other landmarks.

"Very beautiful," Shashurin said through interpreter Andrei Strukov of Fairfield. "Wonderfullakes. The city looks wonderful from above, and lots of woods around."

Shashurin and Kotlas building contractor Andrey Palkin gave McFarland a thumbs-up as the plane touched down smoothly on the runway at Robert A. LaFleur Municipal Airport, where Piskurev, Bralnin, group facilitator Evgenyij Gribov of St. Petersburg and Kotlas-Waterville committee officials Philip Gonyar and Jack Mayhew boarded the plane for another flight.

Later, at the Morning Sentinel, the Russians talked about Kotlas and their U.S. visit. They were joined by Gonyar and Mayhew; Herbert Foster, who co-chairs the Kotlas-Waterville committee with Gonyar; and committee member John Engle. Strukov interpreted.

"We just met with KVCOG," Shashurin said. "It was very interesting. We learned about new types of business. There were a lot of mutual questions from both sides." He said Kotlas and Waterville have problems in common, such as how to attract business. Kotlas is a city of 80,000 whose industry includes transportation, shipbuilding and railway service and repair. The area also has a military plant, railway intersection, paper mills, timber processing plant, brick making plant and chicken factory.

"Forty percent of the city budget is for transportation-related enterprises," Shashurin said.

Having a business is much easier in Kotlas than it was three or four years ago, according to Bralnin, whose job as deputy mayor focuses on economic development.

"Our government is doing a lot of work to make it easier to do business and also lower the taxes " he said. "I think in the near future, to have a business in Russia will be as easy as having a business in the U.S."

Shashurin emphasized that public opinion about small business owners has changed.

"Several years ago, people looked at small business owners as thieves, dishonest. Today, public opinion has shifted and they view them as normal people who like to work."

From the Morning Sentinel, 6/15/2004, p. A1. Used by permission.