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Governor Gregoire's European adventure

John McCartney
Published June 2005


This summer, from June 11 through June 17, Governor Christine Gregoire plans to visit Paris,  Mainz, Frankfurt, and London as part of a European trade mission. Recently, the European Weekly got a chance to talk to Governor Gregoire about this mission, and about her concerns with Washington's relationship to Europe.
"We think our ties to those three countries are very important for Washington's future," Gregoire said.
Washington State's exports to France, Germany, and the UK alone total about three billion dollars a year. The trade mission is intended to focus on exports, imports, tourism, and cultural exchange — the most important aspects of any American State's relationship with European countries. Though Washington is not on the Atlantic coast, it still retains a strong relationship with countries on the other side of the ocean.
"We think we're really unique," Gregoire said. "We're equidistant from Asia and from Europe. We think we're in a perfect location to have our state export to either continent ... some of our richest and highest value trade is with Europe."
Washington is the base of a number of companies which have significant worldwide ties; Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, and all have a worldwide presence which is important to Washington State, and maintaining this kind of healthy presence in Europe is a concern for Gregoire during  her mission.
We asked the governor why European countries should necessarily invest in Washington — what exactly does Washington have to offer the international community? Gregoire focuses on our growing and dramatically diversifying economy.
"We're a bargain today," Gregoire told the European Weekly. "We think we have a lot to offer, but coincidentally at this point in time all we offer is quite a bargain because of the strength of the Euro compared to the American dollar right now."
One industry in particular is deeply tied to Washington's economy, and that is the aerospace industry.
"Of course, we're going to the Paris Air Show because the aerospace industry will have a major presence," Gregoire said. "We want to be a part of the international aerospace industry, ourselves the home of Boeing."
In recent months, the question of the aerospace industry in Washington has come up in regards to Airbus. Rumors and ideas have been circulating regarding the possibly impending local presence of Airbus here in Washington — raising concerns about Boeing's security here. Gregoire, however, aims to put these fears at rest.
"Airbus was looking to have a base in the US," Gregoire said. "Three of our cities here indicated that they would like to be a part of that consideration. They were not on the final list of the three States that were chosen by Airbus."
Regardless, Washington isn't interested in neglecting any possible aerospace relationship with Airbus. There are aerospace suppliers in Washington which supply both Boeing and Airbus, as the aerospace industry as a whole is a major part of the Washington economy.
"Whether it's supplying Boeing or supplying Airbus, we see that as a part of our future," Gregoire  stated.
Tourism is also quite important  to Gregoire — France, Germany, and the UK rank in the top six countries with overseas visitors to Washington State, and the tourism industry rakes in over 11 billion dollars annually across all markets.
"In 2002, we had about 80,000 visitors," Gregoire told the European Weekly. "Overall that's an important part of our economy. We think our ties to those three countries are very important for Washington's future."
Visitors from the UK rank second highest in Washington tourism. UK visitors are only surpassed by Japanese visitors, which may have to do with a certain cultural attraction here in Seattle.
"We think the Japanese tourism has to do with a significant baseball player we have — Ichiro," Gregoire said. "I mean, I'm just being honest with you."
Gregoire is particularly interested in retired tourists — such visitors are able to stay longer, spend more money, and offer a fuller cultural exchange. Washington now has a tourism office in France, and hopes to get the word out to Europe about the value of tourism in Washington.
"My message will be to all three countries that we would like to enhance tourism going both ways," Gregoire said.
Just over a year ago, several Eastern European countries joined the European Union, and since then there's been an international boom regarding these countries. While Washington's focus remains on historic trade relationships with Western European countries, there is hope for building a strong relationship with these new EU member states.
"We're trying to make sure that we have a cultural exchange as the foundation for a trade relationship," Gregoire said. "As we open up new trading relationships, we think we ought to have a foundation of cultural exchange and friendship first, and that's how we're looking at it philosophically."
In general, trade missions are aimed to foster existing or establish new friendships. “That way we can see ourselves through tough times,” Gregoire explained. “Global partnerships are the future.” And something else is of importance to her: “Our States shouldn’t compete with each other but join together,” Gregoire said.
The governor has visited both Paris and Frankfurt recreationally, with an appreciation for the history and art of both France and Germany. However, she has not yet found an opportunity to visit London, and is looking forward to the experience.
"Both my daughters have, my husband has been there considerable times," Gregoire said. "I just have never gotten a chance to go there. In fact, I'm taking two extra days at the end of the trip just to make sure I get a chance to take it in a little bit more."

Martina Law contributed to this report


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