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Walker, WEDC adopt proverb: Travel now, budget later

By   /   April 15, 2013  /   News  /   4 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – If the offices of Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. ever get into the business of writing proverbs, here’s one that might suit them: “Travel now, budget later.”

That seems to be the wisdom from the state offices organizing the governor’s trade mission to the People’s Republic of China this week.

“Final costs will not be available until after the trip when the WEDC completes final billings,” wrote Tom Evenson, Walker’s new press secretary, in an email Monday to Wisconsin Reporter.

Tom Thieding, spokesman for WEDC, said basically the same thing Friday.

Final billings are one thing, but the offices could not provide Wisconsin Reporter a budget for the trip, or provide an estimate of how much taxpayer money would fund it.

Thieding told Wisconsin Reporter the international division at WEDC had a “cumulative budget for all activities,” but the division doesn’t break the numbers down for individual trips. He also said he didn’t know how many business representatives received WEDC-administered grants, or the total cost of the grants.

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CHINA TRIP: Gov. Scott Walker and representatives from Wisconsin businesses are in China this week on a trade mission. Neither Walker’s office nor the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. could tell Wisconsin Reporter how much the junket will cost taxpayers.

For the trade mission to China, a total of 42 Wisconsin delegates from business and state government attended, according to a news release from Walker’s office.

“This includes 13 business delegates and 17 delegates from government traveling from Wisconsin to China who are taking part in the entire mission,” the release stated. “In addition, 12 people representing Wisconsin businesses are traveling on their own or are in-country taking part in a specific event during the trip.”

The release’s wording would seem to indicate that 13 business delegates received taxpayer assistance for the trip, but that could not be confirmed with WEDC or the governor’s office.

According to the trade mission registration website, the costs to a business representative were $7,075, which did not include airfare, gifts or an optional cultural trip to the Great Wall.

That $7,075, however, could get a businessman a “customized one-on-one business meeting arrangement,” with translator included.

Small Business Administration STEP grants and International Market Access Grants, both administered by WEDC, were available to businesses to help pay for part of the trip, according to the registration website.

Documents obtained by Wisconsin Reporter under an open records request show 24 Wisconsin businesses have received a cumulative $211,323 in International Market Access Grants from WEDC in fiscal 2013.

The grants help defray costs of international trade shows for companies looking to expand to markets outside the United States. The funding assistance is described as a resource that “can accommodate companies who can provide assurance that at least 50% of manufactured value of the product or of the performance value of the service is provided in Wisconsin.”

Thieding said none of these grants were awarded for the China trade mission.

Additional information requested for SBA STEP grants administered by WEDC or other grants that were awarded for the China trip have not yet been disclosed to Wisconsin Reporter.

According to a news release from Walker’s office, the trade mission had resulted in a contract renewal to use the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin trademark on Chinese pharmaceutical company Tong Ren Tang’s Wisconsin-grown ginseng products over the next 10 years.

Another release stated Madison-based SmartBurn, LLC, a clean energy consulting company, was in negotiations with a subsidiary of China Guodian Corp., a state-owned power generation group.

According to that release, “Some possible outcomes of cooperation include market access for both parties in the other’s country, technology sharing, and investment in SmartBurn.”

Governors Forum

As part of his trade mission, Walker was scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese government officials and businessmen for a two-day China-U.S. Governors forum.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad joined Walker for the forum.

The forum costs were defrayed by the government of China and the National Governors Association.

“Payment for transportation and lodging in China during the Forum is being offered by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries,” wrote Jodi Omear, communications director for the NGA, in an email to Wisconsin Reporter. “NGA is providing a $2,000 subsidy to each state to help defray costs. Funding for travel and events outside the U.S.-China Governors Forum is being determined by the individual states.”

Omear was able to provide the cost information the same day WR asked for it.

While neither WEDC nor the governor’s office could provide a budget for the trade mission, Watchdog’s Virginia bureau, sister bureau of Wisconsin Reporter, reported last week that McDonnell and accompanying staff had a $249,438 budget for the Asia leg of his 16-day trade mission to California, China and Japan.

Virginia reporter Kathryn Watson said it took 50 minutes to get that information from McDonnell’s office.

Wisconsin Reporter on Monday filed another round of open records request with WEDC to obtain the costs of the trip, three weeks after Wisconsin Reporter filed its original open records request.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.

  • Bad fiscal management at WEDC — shocking.

  • Franseenit

    As usual they will have lost track of the records…..

  • if is for trade between Wis. & Chaina
    so be it.We are growing with industry taking over old line busniesses like G&L here in Fond du Lac, by a French firm in 75 days.

  • ……and for some reason there was a reporter for WSJ that thought SWIB should commit $200 million to WEDC. So it would disappear without any record I guess. Or Scooter would change the rules so it would be gone forever.