Friday, September 16, 2011
IL GOV QUINN ATTENDS A JOBS-FOR-CHINA PIPELINE TRIP TO PREVENT DOWNGRADE BY SELLING ILLINOIS STATE GOVERNMENT & NATURAL RESOURCES THRU ILLINOIS' DOE!
Gov. Quinn to tour China with business leaders and campaign donors
Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors at a luncheon Thursday in Chicago. He also answered questions about his trip to China, which begins Friday. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / September 16, 2011)
By Monique Garcia and Ray Long, Tribune reporters
September 16, 2011
Gov. Pat Quinn leaves Friday for an eight-day trade mission to China, leading a delegation of 30 politicians, academics, campaign donors and business leaders in what his office is billing as the first overseas trip of its kind by an Illinois governor since 2002.
The Democratic governor and his fellow travelers will pay their own way to China, but the trip is expected to run taxpayers about $133,000 for meeting space, ground transportation, interpreters and the like.
The trip takes place a week after Quinn proposed mass layoffs and state facility closures due to a lack of money. The governor said the visit to China is worth it because Illinois will get trade agreements and form relationships that will pay major dividends.
"I think it's a reasonable investment, if you're signing contracts of over hundreds of millions of dollars that are worth literally thousands of jobs in Illinois, not only now, but we're encouraging investment in renewable energy. That's very, very important," Quinn said Thursday. "You can squeeze a nickel and lose a half dollar."
Quinn is following a long tradition of Illinois governors acting as pitchmen for the state abroad. The most prolific was Republican Jim Thompson, who made more than 20 overseas trip during his 14-year tenure at a cost of more than $1 million.
The China expedition is focused on economics, specifically exports.
Behind Canada and Mexico, China is the state's third-leading country for exports. China purchased more than $3 billion worth of products from Illinois last year, helping boost the state's exports by nearly 20 percent from the year before. All told, Illinois sold nearly $50 billion in goods to countries across the world last year, according to the state's Office of Trade and Investment.
But Quinn wants more, saying that building relationships with other countries is crucial to keeping Illinoisans employed at home. That's particularly true for China, he says, which purchases one out of every four soybeans grown in the state.
"They have a lot of mouths to feed there, a lot of animals as well, and they are very, very interested in buying our agriculture," Quinn said. "We have to understand that our customers in places like China, we want to have good relations with them. And we're going to be signing agreements that will sell more soybeans to China."
Quinn said the partnership between China and Illinois was highlighted earlier this year when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the United States. He made just two publicized stops — one in Washington to meet with President Barack Obama, and the other in Chicago, where he met with Quinn and then-Mayor Richard Daley, who frequently traveled to China during his administration.
"He told me that he sees Illinois as the gateway to the Midwest," Quinn said of his meeting with Hu. "That we can get more investment from China, investing in jobs here and more exports to their country, if we work together."
Soybean farmer Bill Wykes said he's seen a direct impact between the state's efforts to build a relationship with China to the amount of soybeans he's sold, saying in 15 years China has gone from barely buying soybeans to being one of the state's top export markets.
Wykes, who farms on land just north of Plano, said the Chinese primarily use soybean meal for animal feed or soybean oil for cooking. He said the demand continues to increase in relationship to the Chinese economy, saying when things are good there's more demand for meat and in turn, more demand for soybean meal.
The farmer said the visit by Quinn shows customers that Illinois is willing to do whatever it can to keep its status as a top supplier of soybeans. His only complaint about Quinn's visit is that it comes at the height of harvest season, so farmers weren't able to tag along.
The delegation is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Saturday and also make stops in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said the delegation will seek to match up China's consumer needs with products manufactured by Illinois companies or grown on Illinois farms.
Raoul said he'll likely use his campaign fund to pay for the trip. Quinn plans to do the same, saying Thursday that he's "not going to charge the taxpayers for my China expenses involving the airfare or the lodging."
Quinn officials could not provide a specific breakdown of the $133,000 the state stands to spend on the trip but said travel for two staff members is included. The money was set aside in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity budget, a spokeswoman said.
Eight of the 30 people going to China with Quinn have given him campaign contributions as individuals or work for a company or group that has done so.
Leading the list is John T. Coli, president of the Teamsters Joint Council 25. The union's various funds gave more than $400,000 to Quinn since he became governor in January 2009.
Also on the trip will be businessman Theodor Spyropoulos, president of T.G.S. National Wholesalers. Spyropoulos has given Quinn more than $72,000, mostly as he ran for governor. Jeff Cooper, of Edwardsville, the founder of Illinois-based Eudora Global and Radix Global, with operations in China, gave $25,000 to Quinn last year.
Republican Sen. Bill Brady, of Bloomington, who lost the governor's race last year, said Quinn needs to explain why so many political contributors are going to give Illinoisans a "comfort level" with his choice of travel companions.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said politics were not a consideration.
"The governor wanted to bring a well-rounded diverse delegation that reflects our state and will be helpful to recruiting business and investment in Illinois," she said.
China marks Quinn's second international excursion this year. The governor traveled to Israel in June, where he visited a Motorola Mobility outpost and signed a sister lakes agreement between Lake Michigan and Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee.
Thompson, who was the first Illinois governor to travel to China, said it's important for Quinn to act as a salesman for the state on a global level. He said companies aren't just going to magically know about the benefits of doing business with Illinois, such as the state's broad network of transportation infrastructure and academic and cultural institutions.
"We're not going to prosper in Illinois by just selling to Illinoisans. If we only sold within our borders we would shrivel as a state," Thompson said. "Selling Illinois in a global economy is a huge, huge part of a governor's job, and Gov. Quinn understands that."
"Is it fair when people say, 'Why is our governor globe-hopping, jet setting?' the same stuff I heard 25 years ago? No. And you've just got to shrug and ignore it," he said.
Thompson's successor, Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, was more reserved in his foreign travel, even closing some overseas trade offices. But Edgar's replacement, Republican Gov. George Ryan, took up the mantle of building Illinois' presence overseas. He opened a trade office in South America and became the first U.S. governor to visit Cuba since Fidel Castro took power. While there, Ryan argued the U.S. should lift its trade embargo against the communist nation, angering Cuban-Americans who contended Ryan's trip legitimized Castro's dictatorship.
For Quinn's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, traveling meant going to Springfield from his home in Chicago.
But Quinn said he's ready to pick up the slack. He's expressed the desire to reorganize the state's nine trade offices and said he'll jump at any opportunity to travel overseas "if it means jobs for Illinois."
"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said. "That's part of the job of governor nowadays."
Tribune reporter John Byrne contributed.
Posted by Eileen at 11:08 AM