Ayer travels to Taiwan on behalf of region
WEYBRIDGE — State Sen. Claire Ayer has grown accustomed to traveling throughout the Green Mountain State in representing the interests of Addison County and Brandon.
But the four-term Democrat’s customary travels, usually from her home in Weybridge to the Statehouse in Montpelier, recently ramped up to some veritable globetrotting.
Ayer returned on Monday from a weeklong visit to Taiwan, as co-leader of a 10-person delegation made up of legislators from four New England states: Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
The trip, paid for by the government of Taiwan, was one in a regular series of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries designed to “promote cultural understanding and economic awareness,” Ayer said on Tuesday.
The group departed for the Asian island nation on Dec. 6 and spent a very busy, guided week touring some of Taiwan’s most celebrated economic and cultural centers. It proved a fruitful trip, according to Ayer, who returned with some ideas on potential partnerships between the Taiwanese and the University of Vermont on agricultural programs. The trip also provided insights into Taiwan’s national health care system as Vermont lawmakers consider further health care reforms.
“I’m glad I did it,” Ayer said of the trip. “It was pretty intense.”
Ayer was one of two Vermont lawmakers picked for the trip by House and Senate leadership.
Joining her was Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, and two legislators each from New Hampshire and Maine, and four from Massachusetts. The Taiwanese hosts selected Ayer as a co-leader of the delegation in part because of her track record as Senate majority whip.
The delegates’ hosts (the Taipei Economic and Cultural Affairs Office) covered their transportation, room and board, and the lawmakers did not draw a salary while there.
Participants stayed very busy, attending a variety of events each day. Those events included:
• Visits to some of Taiwan’s “technology parks,” of which there are three in the nation. Ayer explained the parks are examples of public-private partnership in which the government has set aside land on which to build infrastructure to woo high-tech and science-related companies. It is a formula that has worked, according to Ayer, who said dozens of companies — including Microsoft — have established offices within the technology parks.
“It is space where they are getting everything they need — a trained workforce, equipment and transportation,” Ayer said. “They are huge economic development places that are a result of long-range planning from government and some upfront investment.”
• Tours of green energy, technology and transportation projects, including a very brief and extremely fast trip on Taipei’s high-speed rail system.
“It was amazing,” Ayer said of the trip, noting the absence of noise and vibrations one usually expects with regular rail transportation.
• Visits to National Taiwan University and National Taiwan University Hospital.
• Meetings with business people, including those involved with agriculture. Ayer explained that Taiwan does not grow all of the food it needs and therefore imports a lot of crops, including wheat. It’s a situation that Ayer believes could be ripe for a partnership between Taiwan and Vermont-based agriculture officials — including at UVM, where Ayer serves as a trustee.
• Conferences with Taiwanese commerce, education, health care, tourism and foreign affairs officials.
The trip made some big impressions on Ayer, not the least of which was the overlap in governmental policies related to land use, economic development and other issues. By not taking on individual issues in a vacuum, Ayer said Taiwan is getting broad results on programs to promote business growth, land use and health care.
“I’m not sure it is a model we should use, but it is something we should look at,” Ayer said.
Vermont should also look at Taiwan’s health care system, according to Ayer, who could be a major player on that front when the state Legislature convenes in January. Ayer is among a small group of lawmakers being considered for the chairmanship of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The current chairman of that panel, Sen. Doug Racine, D-Richmond, ran for governor this fall and will serve as the new secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services in the administration of Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat.
It should also be noted that William Hsiao — who is helping Vermont design some new health care options — is the architect of Taiwan’s national health care system.
“It sounded very successful,” Ayer said of Taiwan’s single-payer system.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.