Romney's Dearth of Trade Missions Reveals Priorities

By Erin McPike - May 1, 2012

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Pete Seat, an informal adviser to Daniels and spokesman for the Indiana GOP, said his state “has benefited greatly from these trade missions. It is our nationally recognized business climate that attracts their attention and the personal touch of Governor Daniels, Lt. Gov. [Becky] Skillman, Hoosier mayors and business leaders that seals the deal, bringing jobs to our state.”

And Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been on four international trade missions since 2003, though state dollars were used only to cover lodging and others expenses for the state troopers accompanying him. Most of the trips’ cost was financed by a public-private partnership that businesses pay into.

Trade missions are perceived as an acceptable practice on a bipartisan basis, of course; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, focused intensely on attracting foreign business to her economically downtrodden state.

But perhaps the sharpest contrast to Romney’s approach has been the experience of his successor in Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick. His secretary of housing and economic development, Greg Bialecki, told RealClearPolitics that business leaders in the state asked that Patrick reinstitute trade missions.

“Business leaders told us that more doors were open and more opportunities were available to them if the governor traveled with them,” Bialecki said.

Patrick took his first mission abroad in 2007, the first year of his term, to China. But like Romney, he didn’t deem it appropriate to spend public money on international travel when the economy was lagging, so he opted not to take any trips from 2008 through 2010, the year he ran for re-election. Bialecki explained, however, that after the three-year hiatus, business leaders in the state stressed the importance of the governor’s presence on such trips, and asked that he start taking them again. The administration was initially hesitant and asked companies to help finance the projects, which the secretary said they were willing to do. He added that business leaders even promised to defend the governor’s travel by touting the importance of his role in promoting overseas business.

According to the North Andover Eagle-Tribune, the first Massachusetts trade mission after Romney’s departure from the governor’s chair cost $312,000 ($236,000 of which was financed by tax dollars). The story detailed some of the hefty travel costs that were the very reason Romney axed the trips from his budget. 

Last year, Patrick embarked on two trade missions -- one to Chile and Brazil, and another to Israel and the United Kingdom.

According to Bialecki’s office, the latter trip resulted in several British companies making Massachusetts their headquarters in the United States, including TotalMobile, Sagentia and Cambridge Consultants, which led to an additional 175 jobs in the state. An Israeli biotech firm, EarlySense, also announced after Patrick’s trip that it would locate its U.S. center in Waltham, Mass. Several other collaborations and projects also came out of the mission.

Patrick Bench, a vice president of public affairs for Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications in Boston, served in both the Romney and Patrick administrations. For the latter, he was director of business development in the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment. He, too, defended trade missions by governors.

“State government has a significant role to play in attracting and assisting foreign companies to locate in U.S. states,” Bench said. “Building international partnerships with foreign governments and their respective economic offices are essential for state governments. In the global marketplace, state governments must compete for jobs and investment beyond the shores of the United States.”

According to Bialecki’s office, Romney’s predecessors -- Republicans Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci -- participated in even more trade missions. The Weld administration hit 27 countries and territories on 24 different trips, with Weld himself visiting 19 different nations. Cellucci’s administration undertook seven trade missions over two years to 12 countries; the governor himself visited eight of them. 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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