DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad jetted off to Japan and India on Friday, embarking on his sixth international trade trip since 2011.
In the past three years, the governor has toured several European countries, gone south to Brazil and Chile and has made three trips to China. His staff contends this work is a valuable economic development investment that can yield trade deals or bring job-creating businesses to Iowa. But some respond that it’s hard to know just how meaningful these foreign journeys are.
“It’s hard to gauge the results here. They go and they meet with a bunch of people allegedly with potential prospects. We can never know who those people are,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City who has questioned Branstad’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses to Iowa. “Are we seeing jobs created in Iowa from all this travel? It’s not clear.”
Still, Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, who was part of a group that accompanied Branstad on a trip to China earlier this year, said the governor is establishing valuable relationships for the state.
“I think it’s important. The economy of the state is driven by agriculture,” Hill said, noting that Iowa exports soybeans, corn and pork to China and could do even more in the future. “He was on the go 20 hours a day. He represented the state very admirably.”
While these trips are pricey, the state budget is shouldering little of the costs. Since 2011, the state has spent $9,477 on the governor’s travels, according to state records. The rest of the bills have been handled by the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s foundation, which takes private contributions. The foundation has spent $113,994 on the governor’s travels to date and expects to spend another $10,000 on the current trip.