Miss. governor, wife, development chief in Asia

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spoke Monday at an international business conference in Malaysia as part of a 13-day trip to Asia.

This is at least his second overseas trip this year. In June, he traveled to France.

Barbour, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, was scheduled to join Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and businessman Steve Forbes to discuss U.S. politics Monday night at the 9th Annual Forbes Global CEO Conference in Kuala Lumpur.

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Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the governor left Mississippi on Saturday and is scheduled to return Oct. 8.

Barbour and his wife, Marsha, will travel to Singapore later this week. The governor’s office said in a news release that he will tour the Port of Singapore and meet with companies that either already have operations in Mississippi or are considering doing business in the state.

Barbour will travel to Japan for more business meetings before returning to the U.S., the news release said.

Turner said part of the governor’s expenses will be paid by the state and part will be paid by private sponsors. After the trip is over, Turner said, officials will calculate what percentage of the tab is paid by sponsors.

Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, is on the trip with Barbour. A spokeswoman for the state economic agency said Swoope is the only MDA employee accompanying the governor.

Barbour is traveling less than a month after he cut nearly $172 million, or 2.9 percent, from the nearly $6 billion state budget for the year that began July 1. Mississippi’s tax collections have fallen short of expectations for each of the past 12 months.

Barbour rarely releases a public schedule, despite repeated requests from The Associated Press. His office did not announce he was traveling to Asia until he was already there.

One of the Democrats who helps write the state budget, Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, said Monday that he didn’t know details about Barbour’s trip and was reluctant to criticize it.

“If he brings back a big industry, then it’s probably a good move,” Brown said. “It’s unusual timing, with the budget that we have.”

In June, Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley attended the Paris Air Show and met with officials from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which is trying to land a $35 billion contract to make the tanker jets for the U.S. Air Force.

EADS has proposed building a factory near Mobile, Ala., and Barbour estimated that up to a third of the jobs could go to Mississippi residents. Thousands of people already commute between Mobile and the Mississippi Gulf Coast for other jobs, including those at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss.

EADS, Airbus’ parent company, said in April that it would bid with partner Northrop Grumman Corp. for the contract to build 179 planes for the Air Force.

The contract originally was awarded to Northrop Grumman and EADS in 2008, but the decision was overturned after Boeing Co. appealed and a congressional audit concluded the Air Force unfairly penalized Boeing’s smaller plane.