AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced late Friday afternoon that he was backing out of the trade mission he was to lead to Chile and Brazil this fall, citing fiscal priorities involving preparation for the legislative session.
According to a release from LePage’s office, the November trade mission will continue without the governor. Ten Maine businesses have agreed to participate in the mission.
“The upcoming 2012-13 supplemental budget process will be a very challenging exercise. It is incumbent that I attend to these matters here in Maine,” LePage said in the release. “Additionally, we have embarked on a zero-based budgeting exercise, to which I will be intimately involved.”
Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, which is coordinating the mission, said the organization understands and appreciates “the governor’s focus on our state’s fiscal matters.”
“While the governor will not be able to attend, his administration will still benefit from the mission and this experience will afford Maine companies to expand their markets globally and attract foreign investment to Maine,” Bisaillon-Cary said.
Bisaillon-Cary will represent Maine and report back details to LePage and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner after the trip. She also will work with the state to follow up on economic opportunities.
“This mission is a great opportunity for Maine companies to expand their global presence and seek new markets,” LePage said in the statement. “I strongly encourage Maine companies to consider this opportunity.”
LePage had announced the trade mission in late June. At the time, he noted in a statement that he looked forward to leading the mission “to not only open up new markets, but to attract investment and jobs into our state.”
Each company that goes on a gubernatorial trade mission pays for its own employees and the costs also cover the expenses of the governor, his staff and the MITC staff. Typically, having the state’s top executive on the mission opens doors for companies seeking to open or broaden their markets.
Bisaillon-Cary said there were 10 companies that had signed up for the mission. She declined to name them, as the trade center doesn’t have permission to do so, Bisaillon-Cary said. Trade mission officials have communicated with all the companies and only one has indicated it may back out of the mission because of the governor’s change of plans.
Companies have until Sept. 15 to pull out of the mission without taking a financial hit. To go on the mission, it costs each person $6,900, which includes all expenses.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Bisaillon-Cary told the Bangor Daily News. “The companies are really going because of the opportunity and the marketplace. “[Having the governor along] is always a draw, it is always a help, but they’re all going for sales and developing new markets.”
Brazil is Maine’s 14th-largest export destination, with paper products, electrical machinery and chemical products from the state heading south of the border.
Brazil is the world’s eighth-largest economy, with an annual gross domestic product of more than $2 trillion. The U.S. Department of Commerce has identified a number of market opportunities in areas including biotechnology and medical products; aircraft and automotive components; food-seafood products; oil, gas, and renewable energy; environmental technologies and tourism.
Maine exports very little to Chile, roughly $3 million a year, and that’s in paper, textile arts and industrial machinery, according to trade center statistics.
Bisaillon-Cary said LePage’s change of plans won’t affect the matchmaking meetings the Maine companies will participate in with potential customers or partners, and the mission still will hold state of Maine receptions in Chile and Brazil. The trade center is waiting to see if another LePage administration official will go in the governor’s stead, she said.
The trade center organizes missions that are headed by a governor as well as those that aren’t. Four Maine seafood companies actually started on a trade mission to China on Friday, headed by the trade center in conjunction with Food Export USA, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They will later head to Hong Kong for the Asian Seafood Exposition, where they will exhibit their products and be able to hook up with seafood buyers from across Southeast Asia.
While having a governor on board provides companies a higher level of entree to potential customers, there is value to participating in a nongubernatorial trade mission, as well, said company executives who have been on them.
The trade center tracks company sales that can be attributed to the trade missions. By and large, the gubernatorial trade missions have more companies participating, and so generate more in sales. For example, in fiscal year 2004, a gubernatorial trade mission generated $6.5 million in sales for Maine companies, while missions without a governor generated $2 million. Likewise, a 2006 mission Gov. John Baldacci led to France generated $5 million, while nongubernatorial missions brought in $200,000.
That’s the general theme, though nongubernatorial missions brought in $6.5 million in 2008, while a Baldacci-led mission to South Korea and Japan brought only $3 million in sales.
In the past, governors have lead trade missions to Ireland, England, France, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Canada, South Korea, Japan and other countries.