Danyang is traditionally well known for its “Danyang Pal Gyeong,”or Eight Beautiful Sceneries. By continuing to shore up its tourism infrastructure and successfully launching tourism promotion campaigns, Danyang County has won various prizes and awards in the tourism sector from the central government and public organizations, boosting Danyang’s brand value as a major tourist destination in Korea.
The county also strives to promote the local culture and arts by holding various festivals and performances, while preserving the cultural heritage of the region. In addition, Considering environment is a critical asset for its future, the county has launched various ecological projects which contribute greatly to both environmental protection and regional development at the same time.
All in all, Danyang County has now succeeded in turning itself into an eco-friendly heal-being city. At the center of this change has been County Chief Kim Dong-sung, with whom BusinessKorea had an exclusive interview to hear about what he has done for the county. What follows are some excerpts from the interview with him.
The fifth popularly-elected county government in Danyang is in its final stage now. Your catchphrase has been the happiness of all people, which shares the same thread as that of the central government. Please explain your major accomplishments up to this moment.
This year, my county had some hard times due to the lingering economic uncertainties both at home and abroad. However, all of the county government officials, including myself, have strived hard to deal with the situation while following the central government’s new vision of Governance 3.0 and improved local autonomy. At the same time, all of us did our utmost to keep our Seven Promises for County Residents.
Danyang won a series of awards in the tourism sector as well, including the popularity award of My Country Travel Fair 2013, the grand prize in the Healing and Well-being City Segment of the Korea’s Most Beloved Brand Awards and the highest prize of the Tourism Promotion Policy Awards. These prizes have boosted Danyang’s brand value while cementing its national standing as a major tourist destination.
Also, the county opened the Gowungol Nature Learning Center and launched various projects for ecological stream restoration and more efficient operation of the Gadae Ecological Wetlands, all of which have contributed greatly to environmental protection and regional development at the same time. The efforts brought us the highest prize in the environmental conservation segment of EcoExpo Korea 2013, awarded by the Ministry of Environment.
In addition, it successfully played host to the very first Aronia Festival this year, so that the crop can become our new growth engine for the future. The Aronia Processing Center is in smooth operation now and we will continue making efforts so that Danyang remains the center of the industry.
You have implemented welfare policies oriented toward public participation, such as the Danyang County Resident Welfare Exhibition. Please tell us about the most important aspects of the exhibition. And could you introduce some examples of the county’s unique welfare policy?
The Danyang County Resident Welfare Exhibition, which took place on November 8 in Danyang Naru Park, was attended by over 2,000 people.
Under the slogan of Eight Colors of Happiness for Happier Danyang, a total of 46 social welfare organizations in the region set up 57 booths to provide various information and hands-on events. The fair celebrated its fourth anniversary this year, presenting about 60 programs under the four themes of sharing, communication, harmony, and learning.
In particular, 888 people shared aharmonious meal in the Bibimbap Making Event. Eight citizen autonomy centers showed off their dances, songs, craftworks, baking techniques, and many more during the self-autonomy program presentations to win the applause of the audience. Plus, a large number of people were very interested in the hands-on booth of the aquatic ecology expert group that obtained an excellence award at the second Korea Life-long Education Fair. The Job Café, in the meantime, provided useful job placement consulting for senior citizens and other unemployed persons as well, along with participatory events for nail art, cooking, bead craft, soap making, boating, and so on. A variety of mulberry paper works, multicultural costumes, traditional straw craftworks, and calligraphy were put on display to add colors to the exhibition, too.
Danyang County has moved ahead with 107 subprojects in seven fields to provide tailored welfare services in tandem with private entities in the local community. Also, it has made great efforts to reach out to underprivileged households. An annual average of 1,743 surveys and follow-up policy programs are underway in the region for in-depth fact finding and on-site consultation and to prevent any misuse of the welfare budget.
Danyang is well known for its Eight Beautiful Sceneries and other abundant tourism resources. How many tourists visited the county in 2012 and 2013?
My county has continued to shore up its tourism infrastructure in spite of the adverse economic conditions since the financial crisis in 2008, consistently working on differentiated tourism content. As a result, the number of tourists visiting Danyang has kept rising and the number is expected to amount to 9.6 million by the end of this year.
Danyang recently signed a cooperation agreement with KORAIL in an effort to provide leisure-centered, high-quality programs for tourists seeking healing and wellness. The Naeillo ticket and train trip program and the Danyang Tourist Train have been particularly well received by many people along with the Stamp Tour and Familiarization Tour programs, tourism information sessions, the Theme Tourism Promotion Fair, etc.
It also attracted TV programs such as the MBC Pop Song Best, Two-day Trip and Go! Dream Team of KBS for greater appeal to more sightseers. In the Ondal Open Set, movies and TV dramas such as the Dream of the Great King and Cruel Palace-War of Flowers were filmed here, so that the county can emerge as a new favorite location of the general public.
Danyang is aiming to turn itself into a “heal-being” tourism city and eco-friendly green city to raise the living standards of the residents and enhance its competitiveness. What are some specific projects that have been kicked off to serve the purpose?
We have strived to promote the local culture and arts while preserving the cultural heritage of the region and holding various festivals and performances. The Sobaek Mountain Royal Azalea Festival, the Ondal Cultural Festival, and the Korea Folk Art Festival are three of the leading examples. In fierce competition among local governments, Danyang has successfully launched tourism promotion marketing campaigns to win the prizes and awards mentioned above, and become one of the most favored tourist destinations in Korea.
The Gowungol Nature Learning Center was opened this year as stated above for the creation of an eco-friendly “healbeing” city, and the Maepo Ecological Stream was restored for the same purpose. In order to remove any bad atmosphere, it has conducted waste ingredient analyses, inspections, and sampling, and held discussion sessions with business in the local community, too. It also kicked off a campaign to collect used cell phones for the more effective recycling of natural resources, which was rated in the highest group in the central government’s assessment.
Moreover, the Danyang County Food Culture Research Center was established to develop the local food and herbs, which resulted in a silver prize at the 17th Native Food Competition hosted by North Chungcheong Province. The county government also focused on the improvement of food-related services in the region with great success.
What are the examples of Danyang’s specialties and cash crops? What is the county doing to globalize them and to help the households increase their profits?
Danyang has nurtured highly-educated farmers and launched various projects for competitive enhancement of our farmers under the goal of welfare through profit increases, so that they can better cope with the Korea-China FTA and the competition in the industry which is sure to be intensified as a result of it.
It invested one billion won (US$951,249) in 2012 and again in 2013 to support local farming households, and is planning to increase the amount of the investment to 10 billion over time. In order to promote the growth of green farming, it is going to continue the establishment of an eco-friendly rice production complex, while providing organic farming materials, direct sales events, and certifications for environmentally-friendly agricultural crops.
Moreover, it will transfer technologies for high-profit crops by setting up a black chokeberry cultivation complex and expanding the support infrastructure such as crop processing plants. We are expecting that an increasing number of households will be engaged in the cultivation of such profitable crops.
The joint business corporations of the villages will lead efforts to improve agricultural product distribution systems so that farming households do not have to be worried about the sale of their products. More direct sales will be available with time in connection with direct outlets and sisterhood organizations in major cities.
The Danyang Aronia Village will add to the value of the agricultural products based on aronia, while contributing to job creation and an increase in the profits of farming households. Furthermore, we will develop new tourism products by making use of aronia, in which both the residents and general consumers can participate.
Unlike many other local governments in Korea, Danyang is well known for its zero liabilities, and its integrated financial index showed a surplus of 2.4 billion won (US$2.2 million). How is that possible?
Last year, Danyang County repaid all of its municipal bonds, amounting to 19.2 billion won (US$18.2 million). At first, we were planning to redeem 5.4 billion won by 2011 and handle the rest by 2016. However, we opted for early redemption with the financial soundness issue emerging on the central and local government level due to the financial crisis in Europe and the problems of the over-issue of municipal bonds appearing in some local governments like Taebaek City, Incheon City, and Yongin City.
For that purpose, the county reduced the increment in the local grant tax and operating costs to the minimum, and could additionally raise the 13.5 billion for repayment.
All of this was because of the consideration on the part of local government officials. I believe that the county government will be able to be run on a sounder groundwork in the future thanks to the kind considerations.
The popularity of Danyang as a hands-on agricultural tourism destination is on the rise, and more and more urban dwellers are looking to settle in the county. What is the background and what might be the examples of the support policy for them?
Environment is a very important asset for our future. Danyang, in order to remain a clean city, is trying to become the best green city in Korea by setting up eco-friendly villages.
Specifically, it has run a carbon point system for low-carbon green growth while further developing the Gowungol Ecological Park located near the Namhan River. The ecological stream restoration projects have been launched in this context, too. At the same time, it has made great efforts to supply more city gas and other green energy resources while nurturing green villages.
The waterworks improvement projects and potable water improvement projects have been underway to supply cleaner water, along with those for the development of living water for farming and fishing households. The districts prone to natural disasters have been under special management, and the streams were maintained well so that the county can be free from disasters.
In addition, the county is providing subsidies, training programs, and handson events for those who want to come back from urban areas to live here. Also provided in this vein is information on empty houses and farmlands.
Each household can be subsidized with up to 200 million won (US$190,249) at an interest rate of 3%, which is to be repaid in 10 years with a five-year grace period, along with housing subsidies of up to 40 million won (US$38,040). Various programs are available for farming job training, and mentors are also ready to support better living here.