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A Brief History of Minnesota Trade Missions

8/12/2015 9:45:43 AM

Gov. Mark Dayton spent the day Tuesday meeting with officials from Mexico's ministries of foreign affairs, agriculture, public education, as well as its trade and foreign investment arm.

While leading his fourth international trade mission, the governor promoted the state's exports, encouraged Mexican companies to startup and expand in Minnesota (or move existing U.S. operations here), inked cooperative agreements on agriculture and education, toured the facilities of a Minnesota-based company operating in Mexico, and met with executives of major U.S. companies operating in Mexico.

And that's just the beginning.

Trade promotion and export advocacy are such routine gubernatorial duties these days that they barely merit a mention in the news. But not so long ago, the idea that their governor should play a role in cultivating international business development struck many Minnesotans as grandiose or just plain silly.

dayton-meade

Gov. Mark Dayton and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade sign an agreement to collaborate on research, education and training that increases trade and competitiveness in Minnesota and Mexico.

It wasn’t exactly an easy concept to sell back in the early and mid-1980s, well before the terms “globalization” and “global economy” became household words and an economic reality for the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants. Such dealings were the province of corporate monoliths and Wall Street, not small and midsized companies and Minnesota Main Street. Anyone could see that.

Anyone except Governor Rudy Perpich, that is. What he could see was the future.

Perpich was convinced that in order for Minnesota companies to achieve long-term growth, create more jobs and generate more wealth, they had to find new customers. And those customers were in foreign markets.

He’d seen the potential firsthand when he worked in international trade in Austria for the Minnesota-based supercomputer company Control Data Corporation. And he was determined to open the eyes of Minnesotans to the opportunities and open doors to those promising markets.

He established the Minnesota Trade Office (MTO) to help companies statewide explore export options. He led delegations to more than a dozen countries (including China, Taiwan, and South Korea), promoting the state’s industries (and the brainpower behind them), its academic institutions, and the opportunities for cooperation, collaboration and investment.

Perpich would come to see his efforts to raise Minnesota’s profile – and profits – in the international marketplace as the most important accomplishment of his political career.

Every governor since has followed Perpich’s example and taken up that mantle of being Minnesota’s salesman-in-chief in foreign markets.

Since taking office, Governor Dayton has traveled to China, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Korea and Japan to promote Minnesota exports and industries. Predecessors Tim Pawlenty, Jesse Ventura and Arne Carlson led a combined 27 international trade missions, often covering multiple nations in the same trip.

“It’s a very important role,” says Kathleen Motzenbecker, executive director of the MTO, pointing out that trade delegations get much more attention from industry leaders and high-level government officials in the target markets when a governor leads a trade mission there.

“Access is crucial to Minnesota companies that are trying to enter or expand in foreign markets. Access to market information. Access to expertise. Access to the right people at the right levels of industry and government. A governor opens lots of doors that might otherwise remain shut.”

For more about this week’s trade mission, visit our blog, and read the Why Mexico overview.

group-table

Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson meet with officials from Mexico's ministries of foreign affairs, agriculture, and public education.

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