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Destination: Mexico
By Mark Zdechlik
October 20, 2000
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Gov.Jesse Ventura embarks on his second major foreign trade mission. Ventura will lead a delegation to Mexico where he'll promote Minnesota exports.

MEXICO IS MINNESOTA'S 11th-largest trading partner and exports to the country have been growing rapidly - up 21 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development from 1998 to a total in 1999 of nearly $300 million. State trade officials say there's tremendous opportunity for further export growth to Mexico. They're hoping the governor's visit will strengthen existing business relationships in the country and lay the foundation for new ventures.

The director of export promotion for the Minnesota Trade Office, Tony Larosso, says while in Mexico, Ventura and his entourage will focus on three areas identified as having the greatest potential for increasing exports: information technology, medical and agricultural.

Seventy Minnesota companies are talking part in the Mexico trade mission from the state's largest corporations, like 3M and Medtronic, to small businesses with just a few employees.

Ventura will spend most of his time in Mexico City. He'll tour a supermarket and a hospital there and meet with a variety of government and business dignitaries. Then it's on to Guadalajara for a couple of days of sessions with business and political dignitaries.

Ventura says he's looking forward to the trip. He sees the trade mission as an opportunity to help Minnesota businesses catch up with competitors in other states who are cashing in on Mexico's growing economy.

"Mexico is a trading partner we need to focus on because of their location," says Ventura. "They are the second-largest trading partner in the U.S. but here in Minnesota, we have actually lagged behind the rest of the country."

Gov. Ventura's first trade mission - a visit to Japan one year ago - attracted a lot of media attention in Minnesota. Before leaving Tokyo, Ventura addressed the Japanese-American Chamber of Commerce. He noted the interest in his visit and suggested his popularity is an asset for Minnesota businesses.

"That curiosity has been great for us as a Minnesota delegation because, look at all of the attention Minnesota has gotten in the last eight days."

At the time of the Japan trade mission, Gerald Tumbleson was chairman of the Minnesota Corn Growers' Association. There is no question in Tumbleson's mind, the governor's popularity opened doors to sought-after Japanese business contacts.

"I've never been an advocate of Hollywood, but why is it when you have a Hollywood star come into a city, that people come to listen when they might not know anything about a subject?" asks Tumbleson. "When the governor was in Japan, these people were willing to talk with us."

Tumbleson can't point to an increase in corn-related trade with Japan resulting directly from the Ventura visit. But he's certain the mission solidified existing business and helped new ones sprout.

Trade with Japan has been increasingly dramatically since the trade mission. According to Tony Larosso of the trade office, exports to Japan are up nearly 30 percent for the first six months of the year.

"Statistics are really good for Japan, but I am not naive enough to think the governor's trip to Japan forced those results," he says. "Certainly the governor's trip helps Minnesota companies in terms of that market, but what's going on in that market and what's happening in the Japanese economy really makes an impact in terms of what's really going on."

Gov. Ventura's celebrity status and flamboyance often earn him criticism and charges he's an embarrassment. But no one disputes he's an attraction as well, capable of captivating people all over the world. He says he wants to parlay that interest into opportunities for Minnesota businesses.