Rep. Keith Farhman was among a delegation from Illinois that took a trip to Turkey before Thanksgiving in hopes of promoting business for the state of Illinois. Courtesy of Keith Farnham
Updated: January 11, 2013 6:10AM
ELGIN — Shortly before Thanksgiving, State Rep. Keith Farnham was part of a delegation from Illinois that headed to Turkey to try to drum up some business for the state.
The week-long junket was part of an effort to build relationships that might lead to business between companies here and in that nation, Farnham said.
“We went to make contacts, to open doors to develop commerce between here and there,” Farnham, D-Elgin, said.
The party included Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan; Hilmi Cinar, who is vice president of the Niagara Foundation in Chicago; representatives of the Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association; the Chicago Department of Aviation; and other state reps, including fellow Democrats Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago and Robyn Gabel of Evanston.
Farnham said he paid for his own travel and hotel expenses.
The group of 24 visited Istanbul, a city of at least 13.5 million people; Ankara, which is the capital; and Izmir, the nation’s third largest city and one of the world’s most ancient metropolises.
The Illinoisans sat in on government sessions, heard the prime minister speak, visited with Egeman Bagis, who is spearheading Turkish efforts to become part of the European Union, spoke with heads of the Jewish and Greek Orthodox faiths in the predominantly Muslim nation, toured the offices of the newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, and met with the head of Turkish Airlines.
They also had dinners at the homes of the heads of mid-sized or smaller businesses, Farnham said.
Already, John B. Sanfilippo & Son of Elgin does a good deal of business with Turkey, importing its almonds and pistachios, Farnham said. With the country’s growth, the state representative said, the energy industry might find opportunities there, as might engineering and heavy equipment firms.
Farnham, though, said he would like to bore down to see how smaller and mid-sized businesses in Turkey and in Illinois could be of be of benefit to each other.
He sees building such relationships as part of a role he would like in Springfield, heading an economic development committee that would address manufacturing, particularly helping small and mid-sized firms and entrepreneurial enterprises, and have the Legislature work more closely with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Farnham said he is planning to meet with businessman and Barrington Hills Village President Robert Aboud about the Turkey trip.
He said he’s also working with the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce to bring Cinar of the Niagara Foundation to speak to the group about beginning relationships between Elgin and Turkey.
While the trip was a good deal of business, it also involved some sight-seeing. A history buff, Farnham said he enjoyed visiting antiquities and seeing places tied to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Images he will remember include the two bridges in Istanbul that connect Europe to Asia and the Grand Bazaar in that city, which has 5,000 shops under one roof.
While Farnham said a police and/or military presence was noticeable in some places, “The people were open, curious and pleasant. They seemed to love Americans.”