Gov. Brian Sandoval announced Wednesday that he'll go to China and South Korea next week on a trade mission in an effort to strengthen business ties between Nevada and two of Asia's largest economies.
Sandoval said the trade mission is the first time in Nevada history a governor has led a trade mission to both countries. Former Democratic Gov. Richard Bryan led a delegation to China in the 1980s, according to the governor's office.
Sandoval told members of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce meeting at Greenland Supermarket that his 10-day trip is also about getting the state "in the game" when it comes to building business ties in Asia.
"We are building the foundation for the next 20 years," the Republican governor said. "Many other states that have done this and have been rewarded. We can do a lot more."
In 2011, Nevada exported $8 billion worth of goods and services overseas, with $1.3 billion of that to Asian customers. So far this year, Sandoval said, Nevada has sold $56 million in goods and services to South Korea and $202 million to China.
Nevada exports to China in 2011 totaled $424 million, down from $456 million in 2010 and more than double the $211 million in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Sandoval will lead a delegation of 16 business and government leaders from Sept. 15 to Sept. 26. The trip is being paid for by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Steve Hill, director of the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development, will join the governor in Asia. Hill said the trip is about producing "near term results" for the state.
He said the delegation will discuss a variety of issues and industries with their Chinese and Korean counterparts. On the agenda are a number of Nevada's most important industries, including mining, manufacturing, education, technology and tourism, Hill said.
Sandoval said the timing couldn't be better.
"China's growing influence in our global economy, and the recent implementation of the Korean Free Trade Agreement, provide our state with unique opportunities to advance our economic diversification and foreign direct investment," the governor said. "It's a global economy now and Nevada has to participate in it."
Sandoval is just one of about a half dozen governors to visit China this year, according to the U.S.--China Business Council, a Washington, D.C. Walmart Stores Inc., Citigroup Inc., The Boeing Co., and Ford Motor Co. are just a few of the trade group's members.
"Over the last few years more state and local officials have made the trip to China," said Marc Ross, communications director with USCBC. "The trips have increased as governors and mayors become more focused on economic development."
Separately on Wednesday, Sandoval declined to criticize Gov. Martin O'Malley's handling of the Maryland economy despite the Democrat's harsh words for Sandoval's administration. According to media reports, O'Malley in a talk at the Democratic National Convention on Charlotte, N.C., defended President Obama, saying he wasn't to blame for bad economic conditions he inherited, but then blasted Sandoval, saying Nevada's high unemployment rate in the past three years is the fault of the two-year-old Sandoval administration.
"I guess my only comment would be it's a convention and he is going to take an aggressive stance," said Sandoval. "It doesn't surprise me because there is going to be a lot of rhetoric, I think when we have the opportunity to chat, I'll tell him about how Nevada has been one of the success stories in the country. We do have a ways to go."
Sandoval said Nevada had the "furthest to go" in terms of recovering from the recession. He said the unemployment rate, although still unacceptable, is down with over 25,000 new jobs having been created in the last 20 months and sales tax receipts are up for 24 straight months.
"We've turned a corner, but not the corner," the governor said. "I'll stack us up against any other state in the country."
Despite some good economic news, Nevada's economy remains sluggish with a 12 percent unemployment rate in July, and gaming revenues declining 6 percent in June to $832.5 million, from $885.8 million in the same month last year.
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@review journal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.