Schaefer hitting the road to try to boost trade Well-traveled governor going to Japan, Singapore.

May 28, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

Like the Methodist circuit rider of old, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is preparing to head out again to spread the gospel of Maryland foreign trade.

The governor will travel to Japan and Singapore, greeting companies already doing business in Maryland and hoping to win new converts in shipping and agriculture.

The 12-day trip starting June 7 will be his ninth trade mission in four years, making him one of the nation's most traveled governors. He has been to Europe, the Soviet Union, Canada, Asia and the Middle East.

In 1990, governors from 26 states made 54 trips abroad, according to the National Governors Association. Schaefer went three trade missions -- second only to the seven trips of then-Gov. James R. Thompson of Illinois.

Schaefer's last five missions have cost taxpayers a total of $613,300, and the next trip is expected to cost about $100,000. Records for trips made during the governor's first two years were not readily available, a spokeswoman said.

State officials contend the expense is worth it.

The value of Maryland's exports has increased from $2.5 billion in 1988 to $3.22 billion last year.

The governor's trade missions have resulted in $140 million of capital investment and creation of more than 800 jobs in the state, according to the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Maryland businesses agree that the governor's trips abroad have made a difference, but disagree about the extent of his influence.

In some cases, the companies said the governor's missions had a direct bearing on decisions by foreigners to buy goods or build factories in Maryland.

But other times, Schaefer's trade missions are like the parable of the farmer who spread a lot of grain but only a little found fertile soil. And, sometimes, it's obvious that others sowed the grain, and Schaefer stood by with a sickle for the harvest.

For example:

* Schaefer cut the ribbon on a Baltimore Spice plant in Israel during a 1989 trip, but the company had operated there for years and had moved into the expanded facility before the visit.

* He attended the signing of a contract for Evergreen Marine Corp. of Taiwan to move into the Seagirt Marine Terminal last August, but the owner of the company actually made the decision during a visit to the United States the year before.

* The governor attended the signing of a multimillion-dollar contract previously negotiated by Westinghouse Electric Corp. and the Polish Airports Authority to develop an air traffic control system for Poland.

The governor's missions have received unfavorable publicity for spending taxpayer dollars on first-class flights, $125-a-seat opera tickets and stays at first-class hotels. At times, Schaefer has shown less than the expected tact. In 1987, he cut short a visit to the Far East, complaining he was tired. And, after his first trip to Moscow, he called Soviet officials "rattlesnakes."

In March, legislators criticized the governor for leaving them to wrestle with a budget shortfall while he flew off with the ambassador of Kuwait to survey damage in the war-torn country.

But business leaders credit that overture with helping Maryland companies get a head start on doing business in the Mideast.

J. Randall Evans, secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, is adamant that Schaefer's trade missions produce tangible results.

"His involvement makes all the difference in the world," Evans said. "He's head of state. That makes a big difference and opens a lot of doors."

Evans concedes that the impact is hard to quantify, despite attempts by his department to do so.

DEED credits Schaefer's visit to the Netherlands with the decision by AEGON, the parent company of Monumental Life Insurance Co., to keep its U.S. headquarters in Baltimore and to expand its operations by buying an Illinois insurance company.

But AEGON spokeswoman Rosemary Kostmayer said that, at the time the governor visited in 1989, AEGON had already decided to stay in Baltimore and the visit had no effect on the company's decision to expand. "We have a growth strategy in the United States," she said.

The governor's visit has had a positive affect on AEGON's feelings

of good will toward the state, however, she said.

DEED also says the governor was instrumental in a $51.6 million contract between IBM's Federal Section Division in Bethesda and the government of Taiwan.

Michael Fanning, manager of communication and corporate relations, said it is hard to measure the governor's influence on IBM's getting the contract for an air traffic control system. Taiwan's airport authority chose IBM before the governor's visit last August. But a French competitor protested. Taiwan was reviewing the complaint when Schaefer visited top government officials and urged them to select IBM.

In March, IBM won the contract. "It's hard to measure the effectiveness of the governor's visit, but he intervened at a time we needed him," Fanning said.

A number of state businesses praised the governor for his efforts.

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