US gover­nors’ trade mis­sions abroad have an un­bal­anced record of suc­cess


Gover­nors across the U.S. have been mak­ing trade mis­sions abroad on costly trips that have an un­even track record of yield­ing any tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for their states. Last week alone, gover­nors of 10 states were jet­ting across Europe, many con­verg­ing at an air show in Paris.

Since the start of 2014, gover­nors have taken or sched­uled more than 80 trips to 30 coun­tries in their ef­forts to in­crease ex­ports and en­tice for­eign com­pa­nies to ex­pand in their states, ac­cord­ing to a na­tion­wide anal­y­sis of gu­ber­na­to­rial trade trips by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The re­sults are mixed, with some gover­nors strik­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness deals and oth­ers achiev­ing lit­tle to show for their trav­els.

The AP anal­y­sis found that costs for such trips have topped US$2 mil­lion. But the to­tal cost is prob­a­bly much higher: The bills for some trips have yet to be tal­lied, and many ex­penses have been paid di­rectly by busi­nesses or non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, which are not re­quired to dis­close all their spend­ing.

‘A huge ben­e­fit’

“We’ve found them

to be a huge ben­e­fit,” said Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nixon, who trav­eled to the In­ter­na­tional Paris Air Show last week.

Nixon re­cently an­nounced one re­sult from his spring trip: Piva Group, an Ital­ian maker of vinyl win­dows, plans to in­vest US$6.5 mil­lion to open its first U. S. man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Mis­souri, em­ploy­ing up to 122 peo­ple. The com­pany could get nearly US$1 mil­lion in state in­cen­tives.

Af­ter Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Haslam took a week­long trade trip to Ja­pan and South Korea in June 2014, Bridge­stone an­nounced plans to build a US$233 mil­lion head­quar­ters in Nashville. That was fol­lowed by the Denso auto parts sup­plier an­nounc­ing an US$85 mil­lion Ten­nessee ex­pan­sion and Nissan an­nounc­ing a US$ 160 mil­lion pro­ject for parts sup­pli­ers. The state Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment said it spent about US$19,000 on the trip.

In some states, the costs re­main un­clear. Ken­tucky Gov. Steve Bes­hear has taken eight for­eign trips since 2014 — the most by any gover­nor — but his ad­min­is­tra­tion has not yet pro­vided costs to the AP. And no cost has yet been dis­closed for any of the five for­eign trade trips taken since last year by Gov. Mike Pence on In­di­ana.

Ger­many, the United King­dom, Ja­pan and China are the top des­ti­na­tions for gover­nors, the AP anal­y­sis found. Mexico, Canada, France and Is­rael also are com­mon tar­gets.

Of­ten, gover­nors and busi­ness lead­ers will line up deals that can be fi­nal­ized on for­eign soil as ev­i­dence of suc­cess­ful of their trips.

For ex­am­ple, Florida Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced at the Paris Air show that two aerospace com­pa­nies were re­lo­cat­ing a to­tal of 80 em­ploy­ees from other states to Florida. While trav­el­ing to Brazil last week, Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal an­nounced that the Brazil­ian in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pany Ste­fanini will add 400 jobs to its At­lanta of­fice. And Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe an­nounced mul­ti­ple deals dur­ing a six-coun­try Euro­pean tour, in­clud­ing an ex­pan­sion by a U.K.-based auto in­surer that could add al­most than 1,200 jobs in Vir­ginia and a US$200 mil­lion Vir­ginia ex­pan­sion by Ger­man gro­cer Lidl.

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