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O’Malley touts economic development trip to Asia

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday highlighted tens of millions of dollars in Maryland business deals he says were encouraged by a recent 10-day economic development trip to Asia and that despite some criticism over travel costs he wants to go overseas more.

O’Malley, who said he didn’t have a cost estimate for the trip yet, said business representatives in a 68-member delegation that went with him paid their own way. The Democrat also said he believed reaching out personally to other countries is critical to making progress in a global economy and creating jobs. Republicans are pointing to the costs.

“I think you can’t really be effective as a governor in a global economy, an innovation economy, unless you’re engaged abroad and doing the things that only the governor’s office can do, especially in some cultures, so I hope to be able to go to South and Central America,” O’Malley told reporters. “I hope to be able to go to India. I hope to be able to go to Africa.”

O’Malley returned Saturday after spending six days in China, three days in South Korea and one day in Vietnam. During the trip, O’Malley touted Maryland as having a beneficial climate for life sciences and technology companies.

“I guess my overall takeaway is that this is a huge, huge, huge part of our world, and for us to be successful as a state requires not only innovation at home, but engagement abroad, particularly in these markets where their quality of life, their median incomes are on so fast a rise,” said O’Malley, who noted this was his first trip to Asia.

Raquel Guillory, an O’Malley spokesman, said the administration is still working to determine the cost of the trip.

Maryland business leaders who went with the governor talked about the benefits.

Terry Lin, chief executive officer of Columbia-based Planned Systems International, said his company was able to make a deal with China’s SkyNet in three months with the help of the trip, instead of the six to nine months he believes it would have taken. That, he said, will save his company thousands of dollars and enable work to get started sooner.

“Being with the governor and the state, it established us as an entity of trust right away,” Lin said in an interview.

O’Malley cited plans by one of China’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, the Tasly Group, to invest $40 million in a new 443,000-square-foot production facility and training center at Shady Grove Life Sciences Center in Montgomery County. The governor also pointed to the addition of two Chinese biotech companies, Sunscape and Cell Path, to Maryland’s International Incubator at College Park as evidence the trip was beneficial.

“If I had one regret, it’s that we didn’t go earlier,” O’Malley told reporters. “But given the economy and where world financial markets were when we initially planned this trip some two and a half, three years ago, it didn’t make sense to go at that time.”

During the trip, O’Malley met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to talk about increasing trade and investment between South Korea and Maryland. The governor also met with Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on building trade ties.

Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland who also went on the trip, talked about the importance of developing personal relationships with educators at Chinese universities. He also he would like to get the school’s basketball team to play in China to promote Maryland.

“My hope is that the Terps will play in China and that Chinese fans, like American fans, will learn to fear the Terps,” Loh said.

While it was O’Malley’s first trip to Asia, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown led a seven-day trade mission to China in 2007. Brown went with six state employees for business meetings in Beijing and Shanghai to focus on bringing business to Maryland.