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

By David A. Lieb, AP

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri–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 �X the most by any governor �X 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.