By Brian E. Clark
MADISON – Hoping to expand export opportunities for Wisconsin businesses, Gov. Jim Doyle is leading a group of business, university and government leaders to Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland from today through next Wednesday.
This is the fourth international trade mission for Doyle, who is in his first term as governor. His previous trips were to Japan, China and Mexico.
As was the case with previous Wisconsin governors, all of Doyle’s trade missions are paid for by the executives who accompany him. Some critics have complained that firms are buying influence by covering the trip expenses for the governor.
“This is standard practice,” said Tony Hozeny, a spokesman for the state’s Commerce Department. “All the companies involved are receiving a direct benefit from his presence.
“Having the governor there gives firms instant credibility,” he said. “With the governor along, they can make far more contacts.”
Hozeny said each of the executives paid $5,315 for the trip. Airfare was separate.
The mission delegation includes 23 representatives from businesses including: Ariens Company of Brillion; Greenheck Fan Co. of Schofield; Badger Meter, Inc. of Milwaukee; Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Meats of Wittenberg; Harley-Davidson of Milwaukee; Chippewa Valley Bean Company of Menomonie; Symphony Corporation of Madison; Bonstone Materials Corporation of Mukwonago; Serigraph of West Bend; Elwood Corporation of Oak Creek, Dai Shin Technologies of Waukesha; United Tank Systems of Stockbridge; and PriceWaterhouseCoopers of Milwaukee.
Doyle said his Grow Wisconsin 2005 agenda calls for helping Wisconsin companies capture a larger share of world markets.
“Both the Czech Republic and Poland, as new members of the European Union, represent logical and attractive markets for Wisconsin companies,” Doyle said.
“International trade depends on strengthening relationships – and I am confident that through this trade mission, members will find new ways to tap into the emerging Eastern European market,” he added.
Department of Commerce figures show Wisconsin exported more than $460 million to Germany in 2004, ranking that country sixth overall. Hozeny said Wisconsin exports nearly $50 million to Poland and the Czech Republic. Hozeny said exports to Poland, which has a $472 billion economy, rose at an annual rate of 9 percent for the past five years.
“But it’s really going gangbusters now,” he said. “Comparing the first half of 2005 to the first half of 2004, exports of Poland increased by 146.7 percent to $20.1 million.”
He said the Czech Republic has the second largest economy of the new EU members at $161 billion a year. Its imports from Wisconsin grew by 65.1 percent in the first half of 2005, to $18.2 million.
“Their economies are going to continue to expand,” he said. “And this could be especially important for our state’s manufacturers. We continue to be a manufacturing state, with at least 25 percent of our economy coming from that area.”
In addition to industrial machinery, he said both markets have solid potential for pollution-control equipment, medical devices and transportation equipment.
Hozeny said the mission will travel to the Frankfurt, Germany area; Prague, Czech Republic; and Warsaw, Poland.
During the mission, businesses will have the opportunity to meet with pre-qualified agents, distributors, and potential customers, set expansion strategies, and meet with key government officials.
Participants will also take part in briefings and business receptions with the U.S. ambassador, and attend several events with government and business leaders.
The trip also has an academic side, Hozeny said. Mark Bugher, head of Madison’s University Research Park, will accompany Doyle when he signs a sister research park-signing ceremony in Hessen, Germany – Wisconsin’s sister state.
And in Poland, officials from Marquette University will meet with counterparts at Warsaw University of Technology to set up an entrepreneurial engineering initiative.
Doyle also will also have breakfast with some Wisconsin members of the 123rd Main Support Battalion of the U.S. Army, who are stationed in Germany. The troops will demonstrate equipment made by Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Truck that is currently used by the military.
Those interested in following the trade mission can log on to the governor’s trade mission Web site, which will be updated daily.