Gov. Jindal traveling to Asia for business mission

Gov. Bobby Jindal leaves Saturday for a weeklong marketing and business development mission to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Jindal — now in the sixth year of his eight-year term — said Wednesday the trip is to diversify the state’s economic development opportunities.

He and Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret plan to meet with at least 10 companies, including Formosa and Shintech, about projects that could bring thousands of new jobs to Louisiana.

“We need to diversify and go beyond our country’s borders. We need to focus on the next frontier for business opportunities,” Jindal said during an hourlong appearance at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

The governor said he wants “to personally communicate that my administration stands ready to assist the development of their respective projects in Louisiana and that these companies should consider our state as a strong partner in their prospective operations.”

For Jindal, the trip marks his first international business mission as governor. He traveled to Vietnam and India as a congressman.

The trip falls in the waning years of his second term and comes as he mulls whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Brushing up on his foreign policy knowledge would be a boost in a run for the White House.

The governor used his rare appearance at the press club to announce the trip and to take questions on a variety of topics. Standing behind a microphone with his top aides a few feet away, Jindal quickly delivered his prepared remarks, leaving a relatively big window of time for the media to quiz him about the upcoming state budget proposal, minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, how he approaches his job and successful court challenges to his education proposals.

Before heading out the door for a road project announcement in Breaux Bridge, Jindal joked that the press was kind in refraining from asking him about the next governor’s race. As Republicans jockey to succeed him, Jindal has not chosen a favored successor.

A snapshot of the governor’s comments from the question-and-answer session:

The state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be unveiled in a few weeks. Saying he never tells his children what they are getting for Christmas, Jindal said “all will be known” soon enough as far as higher education, public school and other funding levels.

Education and health care are the best uses for an estimated $163 million state government surplus and unexpected dollars from a tax amnesty program.

Louisiana needs rigorous education standards, but he refused to say whether those standards should be the controversial Common Core. He said the legislative session should produce an interesting conversation on that topic.

An effort to end frivolous lawsuits should have been part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reform health care.

Louisiana should continue following the federal minimum wage instead of adopting its own, higher wage.

Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain was “very kind” to mention him as a good White House prospect. For now, Jindal said, he is focused on his nonprofit, America Next, and developing ideas for national problems.

Next week, Jindal and Moret will visit Taipei, Taiwan; Seoul, Korea; and Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.

Along for the trip will be Jindal’s spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, and two members of Moret’s staff: John Voorhorst, executive director of international commerce, and Jeff Lynn, executive director of FastStart. No legislators will join the mission.

The governor plans to use campaign funds for his airline ticket to defray costs.

“Louisiana already has a very strong position in trade and foreign direct investment. We believe there is an opportunity in front of us to create even more jobs associated with trade, foreign direct investment and reshoring projects,” the governor said.

Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, visited China, Japan, Taiwan and Kuwait in 2006. As Jindal plans to, she met with Formosa executives. Blanco also traveled to Germany, Cuba, England, Spain and Mexico as governor. The return on her trips is hard to pinpoint. Attempts to lure a German steel mill to Louisiana failed. Plans for a state-owned petroleum company in Kuwait to build a refinery in Louisiana apparently died on the drawing board.

Jindal said the purpose of his trip is to cultivate investment opportunities and increase trade between Louisiana and Asian markets. He said most of the companies on his meeting schedule boast billions of dollars in annual sales.

“This trip ... represents an opportunity for us to develop deeper relationships with companies based in Asia that already have invested billions of dollars in Louisiana,” Jindal said.

Moret said he and Jindal also will knock on new doors in an effort to nab projects under consideration for the U.S. Moret said the projects translate into billions of dollars in investment.

Jindal said he sees big opportunities for automotive manufacturing, industrial machinery, plastics, rubber products, chemicals, software and other sectors. The governor said Louisiana is ripe for direct foreign investment.

The trip marks Jindal’s first visit to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan although he traveled to India as a child and as an adult. His mother was pregnant with him when she and his father moved to the U.S. from India during the 1970s.

Jindal said the upcoming foreign mission likely will not be his last. “The reality is we’ve got a great story to tell,” he said, citing Louisiana’s infrastructure, workforce and port system.

The governor said companies in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom offer the biggest investment opportunities. “We’re going to meet with dozens of corporate executives in energy, chemicals and manufacturing industries, including companies already doing business in Louisiana, as well as companies with which we’re cultivating business relationships,” he said.

Jindal said his administration already has attracted more than $26 billion in foreign investments. He said the global economic recovery also is beginning, making it a good time to travel overseas.