Monday, July 06, 2009

Want Jobs? Get Your Governor On A Plane. Now.

When I first heard that the Guv was going to Germany and Belgium on a trade trip, I was a little pissed off. Not because of the unfinished budget; Bob Emerson is around, and it is doubtful that the legiscritters were going to make any progress on vacation anyway. After yelling at them for the past two years about their extended summer breaks, I've really given up on trying on that issue. (but you go Tim! I'll join you in August). It wasn't because of Sanford's admission of impropriety on his trip, although I cringed simply because of the timing. And it wasn't because of Palin's insulting shot (way to spit on your colleagues, Sarah!) when she quit her job, or the fact that I would have to put up with the trolls when I read about this at the news/TV web site comments, who will complain no matter what the governor does. No, it wasn't any of that.

I was ticked off because she is only going for two days - and that's not long enough. It seems that foreign trade missions are a requirement for governor's today, and if we don't go and try to solicit some business, other states are going to eat our lunch.

Take Tennessee, for a recent example. When the GM news about Spring Hill/Orion broke, I noticed that Gov. Bredesen was just getting back from a trip to Germany, Poland and Switzerland - and announced that he was going to China and Japan this fall. It's a long trip, too.

“I think particularly with European and Japanese businesses, they just like to see the governor. You gotta be there,” Bredesen said of the trips. “China is such a huge growing economy. ... Some of the trips might be very successful, others less successful, but it’s the sort of thing you just make a commitment to do over the years.

“I would say especially in China the presence of top officials is really important. Government and business is so intertwined in China compared to in this country.”
Tennessee has landed some major deals in the past few years, enough to win the "Golden Shovel" award from Area Development magazine. Volkswagon AG was the big fish they cited. (Michigan won a Silver Shovel by the way.) They don't break it down by foreign/domestic investment unfortunately, but it's obvious that Tennessee is out there workin' the pavement.

Let's look at Bredesen's upcoming trip to China for an example on a country to visit. Could be that Bredesen's explanation above is why the following current and former governors come up when you hit "governor china trade trip" on the Google machine: Kulongoski (OR), Warner (VA), Doyle (WI), Riley (AL), Culver (IA - opened a trade office), Patrick (MA), Hunt (NC), Huntsman (UT), Locke (WA), Fletcher (KY), Schwarzenegger (CA), Pawlenty (MN), Blagojevich (IL)... and then I got bored and stopped looking. That was enough for me.

Some states try to be sneaky about these trips due to the economy. Gov. Gregorie of Washington has made five trade trips, but none since 2007. "Not the right time to do a lot of traveling" is the official statement, but it turns out that Lt. Governor Owen has made 17 foreign trade trips, and just got back from China last week. That was his 8th visit to the country, and they even send their Secretary of State overseas on trips. Maryland also sent their Lt. Gov to China in 2007. Ohio sent its Department of Development to China in June for a conference, and they also have a trade office there.

Conservatives try to prove that these trips don't really make a difference (unless your governor is Mitch Daniels, then it's OK), but just a bit of research shows that other states are very active when it comes to going after foreign investment, and we would be foolish to pass it up. The question is not, "Can we afford to do this?", the question really becomes, "How soon can we get her on the plane?" According to MEDC's figures, the previous trade missions resulted in "45 companies announcing over $955.8 million in new investment and more than 10,890 jobs created and retained". There have been numerous examples of companies that end up investing in Michigan, sometimes it may be months/years later, but when they do come it usually can be traced back to the fact that we intially made that outreach effort.

So why only two days this time?

And when are we going to China?

Get on it, people.