China may be an unusual destination for the governor of Connecticut, but Dannel P. Malloy says his recent 10-day visit to that country and dozens of other trips abroad and in the U.S. could lead to valuable business deals for the state.
The Asia trip wrapped up earlier this week and came on the heels of Malloy's appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C . It was the most ambitious excursion yet for the first-term Democrat, who maintains his travels around the world and regularly to Washington are aimed at boosting Connecticut's clout and economic development.
But critics wonder whether he is trying to raise his profile for a possible bid for higher office, speculation Malloy steadfastly denies.
Since taking office in 2010, Malloy has made at least 30 trips, travel records obtained by The Associated Press show. His office has spent nearly $16,500 on some of these expeditions, a sum that includes travel costs for Malloy, some staff members and occasionally his wife. Some trips were paid for by others, such as the Democratic Governors Association, the University of Connecticut Foundation, and the Center for American Progress.
Malloy's destinations have included a visit to troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait; a World Economic Forum in Zurich, Switzerland; and the Hunt Institute Education Symposium in Raleigh, N.C.
In an interview this week with the AP, Malloy said he needs to beef up the state's political clout considering Connecticut will no longer have two veteran U.S. senators in Washington after Sen. Joe Lieberman retires this year. Former Sen. Chris Dodd retired in 2010. The governor points to recent federal grants awarded Connecticut, including $116 million to help create a health insurance exchange, as successful outcomes of his efforts.
"The reality is the seniority claim is gone. It's gone," Malloy said. "So are we just supposed to accept that and try not to build relationships that will allow us to be successful? That makes no sense at all."
On Thursday, the Connecticut Department of Labor reported federal labor statistics that show a jump in the state's unemployment rate to 9 percent in August from 8.1 percent in July. The agency said the state lost 6,800 jobs last month. But Malloy said he is skeptical of the data, and stressed how the state's unemployment rate is lower than when he first took office.
Jerry Labriola, chairman of the state Republican Party, said if Malloy wants to help create more jobs and improve Connecticut's flagging economy, he should focus on things he can do in the state to make it more business-friendly, such as cutting the corporate income tax or eliminating the annual $250 business entity tax.
"It's incredible that while Governor Malloy is jet-setting all over the world, our home state - which he purports to promote - leads the nation in every dubious economic statistic there is," Labriola said. "I think his motives are purely political and he is auditioning to reach a higher office."
Malloy visited China from Sept. 8-17, traveling to Beijing, Tianjin, the Shandong Province and Hong Kong. Besides attending a second World Economic Forum, he met with the U.S. ambassador to China, the American Chamber of Commerce, a national Chinese organization that promotes international trade, and with various Chinese governmental officials, bioscience investors, business executives and entrepreneurs.
AMC Entertainment Holdings, the movie theater chain that was recently acquired by a Chinese company, was among the firms that Malloy met with on his trip. He also made presentations on behalf of startup companies in Connecticut that have received state funding and are seeking a second round of investments.
The week before Malloy's visit to Hong Kong, the Republican governor of Maine made a visit. Malloy said about eight governors were expected to visit China over the next few weeks. Many have been back multiple times and their states have a formal presence in China, he said. Maryland, for example, has an office with 20 staff members.
Malloy said he and the state's economic development commissioner are looking into what kind of presence the state of Connecticut should have in China, such as a full- or part-time consultant who could help foster business relationships.
"You don't ignore China and allow all of that investment to go someplace else," Malloy said. "They're only going to invest where they feel welcome. They're only going to enter into strategic relationships where they feel welcome. They're only going to enter into joint ventures in China with companies from the U.S. who are prepared to do that. A lot of this was about establishing ourselves there."
Also part of Malloy's trip was to rebuild Connecticut's relationship with officials from the Shandong Province, which has been a sister province with Connecticut since 1987 when former Gov. William O'Neill was in office.
Malloy said there has been scant effort by Connecticut officials since the O'Neill administration to build on that relationship, which he said is a big mistake considering how other states and their governors have been actively working with the Chinese to help link Chinese investors and companies with firms and entrepreneurs in their home states, as well as educational institutions.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.