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We should see the same potential in James Ma that he sees in us

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We got an interesting submission this week from a U.S. citizen who works with a Chinese university to foster educational opportunities for international students. He doesn’t have any ties to St. Lawrence County, but Louis Vaccaro is aware of businessman James Ma’s plans to establish an English-as-a-second-language school in the town of Oswegatchie and has decided Mr. Ma needs help convincing residents that what he is doing is a positive thing. He contends an endeavor like Mr. Ma’s is important and necessary for the good of higher education in our country and the rest of the world.

Mr. Vaccaro could be right about Mr. Ma needing somebody to make public statements supporting his plan. I haven’t heard public officials say much about his plans. I have, however, heard paranoid whispers in little corners that aren’t outwardly xenophobic but certainly strongly imply that he is somehow setting the stage for some kind of Chinese takeover in the north country. We’ve gotten the occasional anonymous comment to that effect on our websites when we publish reports charting his progress.

I’m not going to waste ink tearing apart the stupid, undoubtedly racist points of view these people put forth.

I will, however, tell you why I am excited about Mr. Ma’s plans and why I think they could mean good things for Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County.

A lot of students from other countries are attending college in the United States because they want to live and work here after they graduate. Believe it or not, there is still more opportunity here than there is in a lot of other countries. Foreign students who get the chance to study here, by and large, represent the best and brightest among their peers.

Mr. Ma’s school places our little corner of the world in a unique position to help them get their start on the path to success in their studies and, eventually, careers. That could translate to an additional well of expertise our colleges, universities and industries can tap. That pool of international talent could also prove to be an attractive asset for companies looking to set up shop here.

He is in discussions with two Chinese universities, Qingdao University and another in Shanghai, that already have partnerships with U.S. colleges and are looking to open U.S. campuses. Mr. Ma has said he is confident he can partner with one or both of them to launch his school. Having the backing of an established higher learning institution will lend his school credibility right off the bat. According to its website, Qingdao University has international exchange partnerships with 40 existing universities throughout the world, many of them in western countries.

I know several educators certified to teach English as a second language who are hopeful they will get jobs at the school. I’m sure there will be other job openings for support and custodial staff. Any new jobs coming to our neck of the woods are welcome, especially considering there will be a chance for some out-of-work teachers to get back into classrooms.

Mr. Ma has purchased more than 100 acres in the town of Oswegatchie that he hopes to develop into housing, the former United Helpers Cedars Nursing Home on Route 37, which he may convert into a hotel or office space, and the former Sholette’s Steak and Ale Restaurant at Route 37 and Linden Street, which he plans to eventually convert into an authentic Chinese restaurant and specialty shops. Having a restaurant that serves Chinese food rather than Americanized Chinese food by itself could be a real draw for tourists and locals from other communities. Personally, I am hoping dim sum has a prominent place on its menu.

Mr. Ma has already spent a significant amount of money on his plans, which shows he has more than just a passing interest in our area. He has seen potential here that he thinks is worthy of investment, and his interest comes at a time when we are positively starved for new industry and jobs. Our public officials should go on record supporting his endeavors and pledging to help him in any way they can.

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