After leading the state’s delegation to Europe’s biggest aerospace events the past two years, Gov. Nikki Haley will not attend next month’s Paris Air Show.
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South Carolina will send an economic development contingent to the biennial expo, which runs June 17-23, but Haley will not be a part of it, her office confirmed this week without saying exactly why.
“Our administration doesn’t miss an opportunity to sell our state to executives from around the world,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in an email, “the work our economic development team does overseas continues to pay off, and, while the governor can’t make it to Paris this year, you’ll see her travelling elsewhere to recruit new jobs to our state.”
In addition to providing a venue for showing off new products and announcing plane orders, the international get-together is a key opportunity for government officials to court potential corporate immigrants.
In recent years, Haley and her predecessor, the newly sworn-in U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, have tried to leverage Boeing’s North Charleston 787 Dreamliner campus to convince other manufacturers and suppliers to join South Carolina’s budding aerospace industry.
But the governor faced criticism for the swanky style and high costs of the state’s mission to the biennial event in 2011. The state spent some $158,000 on the conference that year, including $25,000 on a reception for prospective corporate immigrants at a historic Paris townhouse.
At last July’s Farnborough International Airshow in England, Haley again hosted a reception at a posh venue, but it was sponsored by the likes of Michelin’s Greenville-based aviation tire division and GKN Aerospace, which has a factory in Orangeburg. The overall public cost of the mission was considerably less, closer to $106,000 according to the state Department of Commerce, with the private sector picking up more of the tab.
According to Commerce, 30 people, including regional economic development officials, went to Farnborough as opposed to the 27 who went to Paris.
In emails this week, Commerce spokeswoman Amy Love couldn’t yet say who will be going to Paris or what the agenda will be this go-round. She said Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt will offer a pre-trip briefing with more details in the coming weeks, like he did last year.
“I have confirmed that we have a delegation of economic development partners going to meet with companies, build new business relationships, and sell South Carolina’s aerospace assets to potential new customers,” Love wrote.
Charleston Regional Development Alliance CEO David Ginn and Charleston County economic development director Steve Dykes will represent local interests, said alliance spokeswoman Claire Gibbons.
“We’re certainly using it as we have in the past,” Gibbons said, referring to the opportunities the event offers to build relationships with business prospects and decision-makers. “We’re working on setting appointments for it.”
While some have criticized such missions for failing to bear immediate fruit in the form of business deals, Haley and economic development officials have explained deals only come together through carefully cultivated relationships over time.
Haley also noted last year the fierce competition from neighboring states, with twice as many U.S. governors at Farnborough than at Paris in 2011.
“Nine of the governors chose to show up, and we’re all fighting for the same thing,” she said.
Though Haley is sitting out this year’s air show, at least two of her Southeast colleagues will be there. The governors of Mississippi and Georgia will make the trip to Paris next month, their offices said Friday. It was unclear Friday whether their counterpart in Alabama, where Boeing rival Airbus is building an aircraft plant, will attend.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.