FREMONT -- A local delegation that traveled to India last month forged some important ties with counterparts in three cities, including one that became part of a Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory program to promote green development, a councilwoman reported this week.

Councilwoman Anu Natarajan told council members Tuesday night that India's continued economic growth -- the nation has 1 billion residents and is the world's 11th largest economy -- enhanced the trip's significance.

"While we there, it became more about partnership, collaboration, and a true exchange of ideas between equals," she said.

About a dozen people, including Councilman Vinnie Bacon, assistant city manager Mark Danaj and representatives from Fremont tech companies and Ohlone College were part of the group. They visited the cities of Chennai, Bangalore and Jaipur from Nov. 15 to 27.

"We packed a large number of meetings and site visits into our itinerary," Natarajan said.

Each city had something unique to offer the delegation, Natarajan said.

Chennai, a coastal city of 7 million people, is the site of biotechnology and advanced manufacturing industries, much like Fremont. Bangalore, which is Natarajan's hometown, is known as the Silicon Valley of India.

But the delegation may have reached its most significant goal in Jaipur, Fremont's sister city. There, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory officials facilitated the cities' signing of a memorandum of understanding to become part of the lab's Sustainable Cities Partnership program, in order "to promote green and sustainable development" and city planning.

The Fremont councilwoman said the trade mission removed all doubt for her that India has outgrown its reputation as merely being the capital of outsourcing and call centers. "The country's business climate and can-do attitude are stronger than ever, and their sense of optimism is so evident," she said. "As someone who visits India frequently, that was a new and added dimension for me."

Officials said the trip cost Fremont taxpayers about $28,500, the kind of sum that raises taxpayers' eyebrows. Mayor Bill Harrison said international trade trips are worth the expense.

"It's something we have to do on a regular basis, and not just to India," Harrison said Wednesday. "We have to be out there and be bold. It's about making connections to make our economy and culture the best it can be."

Natarajan said such trade missions usually bear fruit in the long run. "You couldn't hire a consultant for that sum of money, for the relationships we nurtured," she said. "I think the money (spent on the trip) will go a long way."

She noted that the dissolution of redevelopment agencies has shrunk cities' options for fostering business, further enhancing the value of such trade missions.

"You cannot underscore the importance of one-on-one face time to promote Fremont," she said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.