Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006 | A thought regarding Rob Davisarticle on County Supervisors Ron Roberts’ and Pam Slater-Price’s travel in support of local nonprofits, “Supervisors’ Trip Planning Preceded Board’s Clearance.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States is the world’s largest exporter. In 2005, we exported $904 billion worth of goods and services, which is more than 10 percent of the world’s total trade. At over $116 billion, California accounted for 14 percent of U.S. exports, and about 25 percent of the nation’s exporters.

So Supervisor Roberts’ on-going support for the San Diego World Trade Center and his participation in missions promoting the county and local business is an excellent use for his discretionary funds.

A year ago, I went on a mission to China with the San Diego WTC and Supervisor Roberts. I knew about, but was still surprised by, the way business was handled in China. The Communist Party supervises every aspect of business, and unless the correct politician is consulted and the appropriate fees paid, it is impossible to get the necessary permits and agreements. Supervisor Roberts’ presence in meetings and on the mission was significant and reassuring to the Chinese at all levels.

That’s why the governor leads missions to Mexico, and an under secretary from the Department of Commerce is leading a mission to India. Politicians in emerging markets rarely allow their citizens the freedom to make unsupervised business decisions like we enjoy as Americans. When in Rome, you must do as the Romans do.

Partly as a result of Ron Roberts’ and the San Diego WTC’s consistent efforts, Jim Zimmerman (the new president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China) will visit San Diego on Dec. 8 to present an update on China. This type of event is worthy of our support – or California won’t be exporting more than $116 billion in 2007.

California needs to do more international outreach, not less. A few years ago, our state “economized” by closing all our overseas offices, which attract the inward investment of new jobs and industries. If we don’t ask for the business, we can’t get it.

As to ethics investigations, promoting culture and business is totally different to the billion-dollar shenanigans which have gone totally uninvestigated in the city of San Diego. It sounds like the supervisors should review their procedures so these expenses are correctly budgeted for, especially as Supervisor Roberts’ support for the work of the World Trade Center is on-going and completely predictable.

Much as I like Mainly Mozart, what San Diego can do to attract summer music lovers the way Vienna does is a considerable question.

Davis didn’t report on the results of these activities. International deals and inward investment take years to negotiate – plus San Diego’s planners and economic development agencies are very selective about the types of businesses permitted to locate here because of our delicate environment and expensive economics – so if the answer is unspectacular, I still support the Supervisor’s and the World Trade Center’s efforts. If their work benefits somewhere else in America, more tourists can afford to attend the Mainly Mozart concerts.

The questions Davis should be asking are: What’s our return on investment? Can those returns be improved, and how? What can we do to help more San Diegans export goods and services? How can we make our slice of the pie bigger?

Sally Johnson is a partner with in San Diego

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