Hassan faces criticism for trade trip to Turkey
Gov. Maggie Hassan’s plan to continue her trade mission to Turkey later this month amid a freeze on out-of-state-travel is drawing sharp criticism from Republicans, despite statements from state agencies and businesses that the trip is crucial to economic development.
Leaders from seven New Hampshire businesses will join Hassan, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeff Rose and several other state employees for the mission to Turkey at the end of the month. The goal of the trip is to find new economic trading partners for exports from New Hampshire businesses. The businesses going on the trip are: Comptus, Conductive Compounds, Demers and Blaisdell, Hinckley Allen, Rokon, Ulysses Group and MAE Consulting.
The trip, which will cost $15,000 in state money, was paid for before Hassan put the spending freeze in place last month and comes from money set aside in the budget for an international trade trip, according to Hassan’s office and the Department of Resources and Economic Development. Hassan imposed the spending freeze on out-of-state travel, equipment purchases and hiring by state agencies after April revenue came in $22 million lower than projected.
“The trade mission was paid for by both the state and by the businesses before the freeze, and canceling it would be a significant cost to our businesses without saving the state any funds,” said William Hinkle, Hassan’s spokesman. “Since the freeze, agencies have not been asked to cancel anything that was previously paid for if the state could not recoup the money, as that would be fiscally irresponsible.”
But Republicans, ranging from conservative groups to Hassan’s possible challengers, say it’s hypocritical for her to pursue the trip.
Andrew Hemingway, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, released a petition yesterday calling on Hassan to cancel the trip, calling it “dumbfounding and very upsetting to the public.” New Hampshire’s economy would benefit more from a trip to Massachusetts or New York to bring new businesses into the state, Hemingway said.
Walt Havenstein, Hemingway’s primary opponent, also criticized the timing of and chosen destination for the meeting. Trade missions are an important part of a governor’s role, Havenstein said in a statement, but should be part of a larger economic development strategy, which he says Hassan does not have. Havenstein also suggested Canada or Mexico would be a better country to visit from a trade perspective. Turkey is New Hampshire’s 12th-largest trading partner, while Canada and Mexico are first and third, respectively.
“A trade mission without an economic development plan is just a vacation,” Havenstein said. “The governor may not think that $15,000 is a lot, but to hard working Granite State taxpayers, it is a waste of their money at a time when business receipts are tumbling and the rainy day fund is empty.”
This will be the first trade mission since 2011, but before that trade missions were common, with governors joining for some, said Lorna Colquhoun, communications and legislative director in the division of economic development. Since 2004, businesses have gone on trade missions to China, Hong Kong, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, France, Italy, Ukraine and several other countries. The most recent trips were to Canada and India in 2011.
New Hampshire was the country’s fastest-growing state for exports in 2013, with business exports growing by 22 percent.
New Hampshire companies exported more than $79 million in goods and services to Turkey in 2013. The top exports to Turkey are iron and steel; industrial machinery including computers, optic and surgical instruments; plastics; and electric machinery, Colquhoun said. Turkey was an attractive destination for the mission because it is at “the crossroads of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” the governor’s office said in a release in March.
Conservative group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire filed a right-to-know request with the Department of Resources and Economic Development for more information about the trip. The response, provided by DRED to the Monitor, contains more information about the costs of the trip.
Money already spent
The $15,000 for the trip was set aside in the budget for the state’s Office of International Commerce with the purpose of conducting an international trade mission. As of May 21, $10,000 of that had already been spent for the mission between payments to Milne Travel, the state’s contractor for travel, and the Turkish Cultural Center in Manchester.
Each business is responsible for covering its own costs, and there is a $2,500 participation fee per person. The Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey is paying Hassan’s way, according to the right-to-know request. Hassan is bringing her daughter on the trip and covering the costs of bringing her, the response says.
Rokon International, a Rochester-based company that makes all-wheel drive motorcycles, is one of the companies going on the mission. It manufacturers products used by military personnel, missionaries, hunters and farmers, according to a March release from the governor’s office about the mission.
“We are always looking to find new markets abroad, and joining the State of New Hampshire on this trade mission to Turkey is a great opportunity to increase exports and grow our businesses,” owner and CEO Tom Blais said in the release.
The New Hampshire Republican Party held firm on its criticism of the trip when asked by the Monitor about the economic benefit state leaders say the trip will have for businesses.
“Obviously economic development is important in New Hampshire and . . . we want to continue to encourage a strong economy and use resources available to do that,” party spokeswoman Lauren Zelt said. “But unfortunately (Hassan’s) not abiding by her own policy, and we feel, as a state party, that it’s important for us to point that out.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)