Gov. Dan Malloy spent the week in China working to build new economic ties between Connecticut and the world’s most populous nation. The success of the mission, however, could be jeopardized by an unlikely threat: The “gift gap” emerging between Gov. Malloy and other American governors.
The Hartford Courant article accompanying Mr. Malloy’s sendoff noted the critical cultural importance of gifts to relationship-building in the Far East.
“Another constant: The ritual exchange of presents. “One thing about China, it’s all about gifts,” Anne Evans of the U.S. Department of Commerce told the Courant.
On Thursday, she informed an airport security officer of the contents of her heavy bag. “Maple syrup. No kidding,” she said. “Yes, I’m carrying the governor’s bag today.”
And chocolate, from Munson’s and Thompson.
Connecticut’s gifts, like our economic climate, seem sufficient until you consider the competition.
When Michigan Governor Rick Synder visited last year, his bag of goodies included “Michigan-made artwork including handmade pottery, clocks, glass sculpture, leather boxes, wood pens, cedar fans, and wearable art.” As if wearable art weren’t enough, Gov. Synder also eliminated the Michigan Business Tax and balanced the budget without tax hikes. Gov. Malloy offers maple syrup and the largest tax increase in state history.
A 2010 trade mission led by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire arrived bearing gifts such as “300 pounds of crab, black cod, smoked salmon and salmon caviar” and several cases of Washington-produced wine. Mixed with the seventh best business tax climate and the nation’s second-cheapest electricity rates, Washington’s salmon caviar surely tastes great to their potential business partners. Munson’s chocolates are delectable, but they don’t offset Connecticut’s #40 ranked business climate or the highest electricity rates in the continental U.S.
The gift gap is widest compared to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Utah Governor Gary Herbert. When Daniels visited Zhejiang province in November 2010, he greeted his hosts with “a Peyton Manning jersey and other Colts gear.” Herbert pursued a similar strategy, offering four basketballs signed by the Utah Jazz basketball team. They were a huge hit. ““They loved them,” said Lew Cramer — president and CEO at World Trade Center Utah. “You could have offered them a million dollars and it wouldn’t have had as much impact as a signed Utah Jazz basketball.”
Indiana boasts the country’s fifth-friendliest business climate, is phasing out their inheritance tax, and became a right-to-work state in February 2012. Utah’s economic outlook is the nation’s top-ranked and scores highly in quality of life, cost of living, and infrastructure rankings. Connecticut by contrast is 44th in economic outlook, 48th in cost of living, and 40th in business tax climate.
The gift gap can be closed but unless the economic gap is closed, too, all the Sally’s apizza, Pez dispensers, and UConn basketball jerseys in the world won’t make much difference.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com.