Governor Rick Snyder begins his first trade mission this weekend.
The governor’s whirlwind schedule includes two days in Tokyo, one day in Beijing, one day in Shanghai, and one day in Seoul – not including two days of travel.
The ultimate goal is creating more jobs in the state. But the Governor has been careful to downplay expectations of new jobs right away.
"In terms of specific deals to be announced," Snyder says, "I don’t have high expectations there. This is more about starting the relationships and then looking six months, a year out, after subsequent meetings and followup and discussions, will there be actual investment or will there be more exports .
Snyder will meet with a lot of business people and government officials in Japan, China and Korea during this first trade mission.
For companies looking for a place to invest or set up shop, he’ll talk up Michigan’s best assets. A simplified business tax structure. A talented workforce, lots of universities. A beautiful coastline.
And he’ll seek opportunities for Michigan companies to grow their customer base in Asia.
In some cases, Snyder will be introducing Michigan to Asian business leaders who really don’t know much about the state. But there’s one thing all of them will have heard about, and that’s Detroit auto companies. Doug Rothwell is Board Chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
"(It's a) huge advantage," says Rothwell, "And probably the single biggest reason why any companies in those countries would consider Michigan, I mean, the auto industry remains our signature industry for the foreseeable future, and that’s good."
Snyder has visited Asian countries before, as a businessman, not a politician.
That could be a plus. Linda Lim is a Professor of Strategy with the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. She says the Governor will likely understand and try to address some of the fears Asian companies may have about Michigan.
Like whether the state’s business regulations and taxes will be stable over the long term and how welcoming the state is.
For example, an Asian company considering buying a Michigan-based auto parts company would want to know if it would face political backlash from people in the state. "
Snyder gets high marks from people on both sides of the political aisle for his business sense, and ability to navigate Asian business culture.
But the Governor isn’t the only one going on the trip. He’ll be accompanied by a big entourage of state and local political leaders, and business people from across Michigan.
Former Michigan Governor James Blanchard says everyone on the trade mission needs to understand that Asian businesses are much more deferential to their governments than American businesses.
"And so we need to be very sensitive to their government leaders, no wisecracks – it’s a different society, a different culture, a different governmental structure – at all three of those countries."
The Snyder administration hasn’t released an estimate of how much the trade mission will cost. But officials say half the bill will be paid by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and half by a non-profit group supported by corporation donations.