- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley’s trip to Asia will cost taxpayers more than $80,000, but officials hope the economic-development mission will bring far greater benefits to the state.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, is one of 68 state officials, educators and business leaders who departed Tuesday for a 10-day tour of China, South Korea and Vietnam to encourage trade and business opportunities in Maryland.

The governor will deliver keynote addresses at bio-pharmaceutical conferences in China and South Korea as he and others try to sell foreign officials on joining international partnerships, doing business or setting up offices in the state.

“It’s definitely the highest-potential region for us,” said Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides, a Baltimore-based company that builds roller coasters and other amusement rides. He is one of the trip’s 68 participants.

“There’s a great opportunity [to attract business], but it also means that there’s an opportunity to set up offices over there,” he said.

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development invited more than 120 businesses to make the trip before choosing several dozen to participate. All of the selected businesses either have a presence in Asia or have expressed interest in establishing one, said DBED spokeswoman Maureen Kilcullen.

Mr. O'Malley has touted his efforts to bring foreign businesses to the state, and he has said past trips have proved successful. Since 2007, the state has attracted more than 40 foreign-owned companies while opening its own foreign offices in countries such as Russia, India and Colombia to attract more foreign business.

More than 300 foreign-owned companies have offices in the state, and 3.5 percent of Maryland employees work for a foreign-owned firm, according to the governor’s office.

“As our economy grows ever more global, we know we must look beyond our borders for new avenues for trade and investment, particularly those where we share strengths in life sciences and technology,” Mr. O'Malley said in a statement.

While officials hope the trip will help bring millions of dollars into the state, it will not come without an initial price.

Sixty-two of the trip’s 68 attendees will pay their own way, but the state will foot the bill for six participants — Mr. O'Malley; DBED Secretary Christian Johansson; Bradley Gillenwater, DBED Asia regional manager; Secretary of State John McDonough; Samuel Clark, director of the governor’s office; and David Lee, governor’s office director of ethnic commissions.

DBED spokeswoman Karen Hood said that organizers have not determined the exact cost but that it will be comparable to the governor’s 2008 economic development trip to Israel, for which the state also paid travel, lodging and security costs for six officials, including the governor, to the tune of $80,000.

She said the state likely will spend more on this trip because it is longer than the weeklong trip to Israel and includes stops in three countries. She said the costs are unlikely to exceed $200,000.