On the road for politics, Va. Gov. Youngkin skips travel for trade

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RICHMOND — Republican Glenn Youngkin might be Virginia’s best-traveled governor, cramming at least 19 out-of-state political trips into his first 10 months in office.

Yet he’s a homebody when it comes to the sort of travel that Virginia governors typically undertake: trade missions.

Youngkin will be the state’s only governor in nearly 30 years not to lead an international trade mission in his first year. Going all the way back to Republican George Allen in 1994, every Virginia chief executive has gone overseas at least once in his opening 12 months to recruit business, promote Virginia products and pitch the state as a travel destination.

Many also led multiple domestic missions in their first year to sell Virginia to other states. Youngkin has not done that, either, despite hectic cross-country travel leading up to November’s elections to boost Republican gubernatorial candidates and his own national profile ahead of a potential 2024 White House bid.

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While Youngkin is slated to speak Friday at the Virginia Economic Summit & Forum on International Trade — hosted in Richmond by the state’s economic development arm and the Virginia Chamber Foundation — he is expected to focus on legislative priorities, not trade.

The governor’s decision to forgo trade and marketing missions has been a surprise to Virginia business leaders given his international business background and emphasis on economic development during last year’s campaign. It has also been a concern for some business leaders, particularly those in the aerospace and defense industries, who noted his absence from the Farnborough International Airshow in July, according to emails The Washington Post obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Held every other year near London, the show is one of the world’s largest trade exhibitions for defense, aviation and aerospace industries. Virginia’s last three governors — two Democrats, one Republican — built overseas trade and marketing tours around the event in their inaugural years.

Youngkin’s decision to skip that event and other trade missions was no accident, according to his spokesman Rob Damschen. As a well-connected former Carlyle Group executive and political newcomer bent on doing things differently, Damschen said, Youngkin is not convinced that he has to travel to promote the state. The governor has managed to lure major companies without leaving the state, Damschen noted, ranging from household names such as Raytheon, Boeing and Lego to a pair of obscure but massive vertical-agriculture operations.

“His Rolodex is not short on international CEOs,” Damschen said. “This is what you see from someone who already has significant relations in the international business space.”

Damschen said Youngkin will consider leading a trade mission after the General Assembly concludes its regular session early next year, but not without asking: “Is it necessary to take those trips?”

“And in 2022,” he said, “the answer was no.”

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Youngkin’s approach runs counter to the conventional wisdom — shared by recent governors of both parties — that sending the state’s chief executive overseas or out of state is important for economic development.

“I think trade missions are helpful,” Allen said in a recent interview with The Post, recalling the nine-day trip he took to Canada and Mexico in 1994 to capitalize on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Allen later traveled to Asia to persuade the chief executive of Dynax, a car-parts maker mulling its first investment outside of Japan, to put a plant in Virginia.

“He said, ‘I feel like I’m sending my daughter to a new place. I want to know if she’ll be welcome there,’ ” Allen recalled the executive saying. “We said, ‘Well, Yokohama Tire is here and some other Japanese company.’ But he would not make that decision until he saw me face to face.”

Finally won over by Allen’s visit, Dynax in 1995 put a plant employing 600 in Botetourt County, in the Roanoke Valley. Nineteen years and five governors later, Democrat Terry McAuliffe announced on his own Asia trade mission that Dynax would undergo a $32 million expansion and create 75 more jobs. Today, the company is the county’s second-largest private employer.

Youngkin’s immediate predecessor, Democrat Ralph Northam, devoted part of his first year to an overseas mission to the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany. He also pitched Virginia in visits to eight states. McAuliffe hit mainland China twice in 2014, as well as Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and London, in addition to trips to four states. Republican Robert F. McDonnell in 2010 visited Britain, the Netherlands and Germany in addition to at least one domestic trade trip that year.

Five Virginia business leaders, representing a range of industries and both political parties, expressed concern to The Post that Youngkin was forfeiting economic development opportunities by skipping trade missions. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending the governor.

His decision to pass on Farnborough in particular drew attention from several Virginia defense and aerospace firms, according to the emails obtained under FOIA. The event is considered so important to those industries that companies sponsor “chalets” where they can mingle with business and political leaders. With the addition of the Boeing and Raytheon headquarters, Virginia is home to four of the nation’s five leading aerospace and defense contractors.

Representatives for Boeing, Raytheon and consulting giant McKinsey & Co. separately inquired if Youngkin would attend Farnborough and meet with their executives there, according to emails between the companies, administration officials and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), the state’s economic development arm. The answer handed down from Chief of Staff Jeff Goettman was no.

Only after repeated inquiries from Eric Chewning, co-chief of McKinsey’s aerospace and defense practice and the former chief of staff to a U.S. defense secretary, did Goettman agree in late June to send a senior administration official, Commerce Secretary Caren Merrick, to the July show, according to the emails.

“By way of background, early on Chief said we wouldn’t go & [redaction] McKinsey urging us to send senior people now,” Merrick wrote to another administration official on June 26.

As staff scrambled to make arrangements for Merrick with just three weeks’ notice, one wrote in an email that it might be too late to arrange meetings with industry executives because “the VIPs are probably already booked out.” Merrick, meanwhile, sought out basic information about one of the state’s most important industries.

“Do we have a list of aerospace companies throughout Virginia?” she emailed other administration officials on July 14, four days before her appearance at the show and six months into her stint as secretary.

Youngkin’s office declined The Post’s requests to interview Merrick, a former Northern Virginia business executive and personal friend of the governor’s who led one of his charities ahead of his campaign.

Merrick returned from Farnborough convinced that the event, which the VEDP described in an email as “the #1 aerospace event in the world,” had been a waste of her time.

“I am not sure I agree that we need Cabinet level representation at international programs,” she wrote in a trip summary that advised against sending any secretaries or the governor to the Paris Air Show, a similar event in held in odd years. “I do not recommend Governor or Cabinet attend the Paris airshow unless directed by the Governor, or new information emerges to support this level of investment.”

Todd Haymore traveled around the country and the world with three governors — McAuliffe, McDonnell and Democrat Tim Kaine — as commerce and trade secretary, agriculture secretary, and commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). He said the trade and marketing missions they led — 60 in all — paid off.

“Landing Sabra under Kaine, securing multimillion-dollar agricultural export deals under McDonnell, and having Nestlé move its U.S. headquarters from California to Virginia under McAuliffe are a very small sample of those wins for Virginia, and they’re all traceable to marketing and trade missions,” he said in an email.

Haymore, who leads the global economic development, commerce and government relations group for the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, said he anticipates that Youngkin will eventually follow suit.

“Governor Youngkin has a global business background,” Haymore said. “He gets it, and I’m hopeful that he and officials from VEDP and VDACS will soon be leading successful missions for the benefit of the commonwealth.”

Youngkin had extensive dealings with China and lived in London for a time while working for Carlyle, the global private equity giant where he rose to co-CEO. But politics have dictated his travel this year. He did cover a lot of territory — politically and geographically — ranging from public rallies with election deniers to a closed-door gathering with moderate Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

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Youngkin campaigned for gubernatorial candidates in 15 states and made four other out-of-state political trips, including an undisclosed visit in October to Park City, Utah, for Romney’s E2 Summit, a confab for GOP presidential hopefuls and megadonors.

Youngkin had two more political trips planned for late November: three days in Orlando for the Republican Governors Association meeting, an ordinary excursion for any GOP governor; and a speech in Las Vegas at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, a gathering of GOP presidential hopefuls. He canceled both after a shooting on Nov. 13 at the University of Virginia left three people dead.

McDonnell, who served from 2010 to 2014, sees great value in overseas missions but says it’s understandable that Youngkin did not get around to any this year because the General Assembly went into overtime and the governor was in demand on the campaign trail around the country. McDonnell also thinks Youngkin wanted to improve the state’s job-creation and workforce-development programs first “so he has a better story to tell when he travels.”

“So I give him complete grace,” McDonnell said. “I’m sure he’ll be hard at it next year.”

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Plenty of foreign trade and investment gets done without sending a governor overseas. Granules India announced Wednesday that it would invest $12.5 million to establish a pharmaceutical packaging operation in Manassas, creating 57 new jobs — a deal struck under Northam, who never led a mission to India, where the company is based. Granules already employs 130 at a research, development and manufacturing facility in Chantilly that was established under McAuliffe, who led a mission to India in 2015 but did not meet with company officials there.

“We went down to him,” said Vijay Ramanavarapu, president of Granules Pharmaceuticals and Granules USA, based in New Jersey.

McAuliffe’s mission to India was still helpful “in the sense that he understands the cultural aspects of how Indian companies [operate],” Ramanavarapu said. “I do think it makes a difference if they want to court us.”

The state’s economic boosters have long preached the importance of sending the governor out on the road.

“His presence opens doors at the highest level and can be the essential link in making a business transaction possible,” VEDP spokeswoman Suzanne Clark told The Post in 2014, as McAuliffe headed out for a the second foreign mission of his first year, a 13-day trip to China, Japan and South Korea.

“This is a hard-working governor who’s willing to invest the time in selling Virginia,” Barry DuVal told the Daily Press in April 1998, when he was commerce and trade secretary and heading to Germany and England with Republican Jim Gilmore.

But Clark and DuVal have no complaints about Youngkin’s sell-from-home approach, which has included hosting executives and site-selection consultants in small-group meetings.

“I think he is as energized as any governor that I have directly worked with,” said DuVal, now president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, adding that he imagines Youngkin will take “one or two” international missions next year.

As Allen recalled luring Dynax with a personal visit, he also conceded that the art of economic development may have changed a bit since his days in the Executive Mansion.

News reports on Allen’s first mission marveled that he was able to communicate with reporters back home via video news conference — a first for a Virginia governor on a trade mission, the Associated Press reported at the time. “Allen sends trade message home — by satellite,” the headline read.

“With everyone using Zoom meetings and that kind of stuff these days, maybe more businesses are accustomed to not needing that in-person aspect,” Allen said. “But I guarantee you if we’re competing with Tennessee, and [the] Carolinas, and Georgia, and Florida, and Texas, and those states, Ohio and Indiana, they’ll all be sending their governors.”

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