|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, November 11, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle 11-11-04
Governor's star power sells state overseas
Tokyo -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's celebrity helped sell his movies and catapulted him into the governor's office. Now, he's suggesting he can turn his star power into cash for California.
Kicking off a highly choreographed trade mission here Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he was considering shooting a commercial for a Japanese product and using the money to reopen an office in Tokyo to promote California trade and tourism. The office was ordered closed in 2003 in part because of budget cuts, but the governor told reporters he could solve the budget issue with one day's work.
"I get all these offers from Japan to do TV commercials for products so I could do a quick spot and make a few million dollars and take that money and open up an office,'' he said.
Schwarzenegger, who has starred in about a dozen commercials in Japan, said he was serious about the idea, noting "maybe in the next six months I will be able to accomplish that.''
While Schwarzenegger's trip is designed to promote California, the visit inevitably feels like a celebration of the governor himself. A large group of Japanese reporters covered Schwarzenegger's landing in Tokyo, while more than 200 journalists are expected at an event later this week featuring the state's diverse array of food products.
A 25-by 60-foot billboard in the hip Roppongi Hills shopping district features a giant portrait of Schwarzenegger. Viewable from heavily traveled freeways, the governor appears to be hovering over part of this bustling city of 12 million. Schwarzenegger's visage looms larger than an image of the Golden Gate Bridge on the billboard, which is designed to promote tourism to California.
Supermarket shoppers will also see the governor's photo next to racks of California wines during the next few weeks; the governor's secretary of agriculture, A.G. Kawamura, unveiled the promotion at the huge Nisshin market in Tokyo.
It's safe to say everyone in Japan knows Schwarzenegger is here.
Within hours of landing Wednesday, he sat down for a 20-minute interview that aired on the island nation's highest-rated nightly newscast. The interview concluded with anchorman Tetsuya Chikushi asking the governor to say his trademark "I'll be back'' line directly into the camera.
Schwarzenegger happily obliged.
The governor is keeping a busy schedule as he tries to drum up business. In addition to two lavish promotions spotlighting agricultural products from rice to figs, aides confirmed he would meet with top executives of Sony Corp., soy sauce-maker Kikkoman and Toyota to try to persuade the companies to expand in California.
Toyota is considering opening a factory in North America to build its hybrid Prius model. Schwarzenegger will argue the new plant is a good fit for California because of the state's demand for hybrids.
In a brief interview with California reporters after his television interview, the governor said he would consider offering tax incentives or anything else to entice Toyota, although he noted he would work with the Legislature on incentives.
Schwarzenegger has been in office nearly one year. One thing even his critics admit is that he is a master campaigner, and the governor said the trip this week was just one more campaign.
"It's not so much about coming over here and making a deal, its more like changing the perception of California so people look at us and say 'hey, look what's going on in California,' '' he said. Later, he noted that his job was to "make it (the state) basically sound even better than it is, because that's what marketing is about. It's like we are right now at an 8, and we make it sound like a 10.''
Schwarzenegger did just that during his time on television, announcing that the state's economy had turned around during his one year in office. He invited all Japanese to come to California, hoping to reverse a trend that has seen Japanese tourism numbers drop by 50 percent during the last three years.
Schwarzenegger also took on wide-ranging questions, ranging from whether he liked his Japanese nickname (it's "Schwa-chan," and he does) to United States policy in Iraq and his presidential aspirations.
Schwarzenegger indicated he supported a constitutional amendment to allow immigrants who becomes citizens to run for president. On Iraq, Schwarzenegger seemed to parrot lines used by former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry instead of President Bush, whom he supported. The governor said the U.S. should build stronger alliances with other countries and enlist their help in Iraq.
Schwarzenegger and California officials say this trip is crucial to promote international economic development. They note that other states have trade offices around the world, while California has closed its offices.
That may change if the governor decides to sell noodles or energy drinks or DirecTV, as he has done in the past.
But some lawmakers in Sacramento questioned the governor's idea, noting that 12 overseas trade offices were closed in 2003 in part because of findings of mismanagement and exaggerated claims of their usefulness.
"This is what got us into the problem in the first place -- governors would go overseas and think we must have a trade office," said Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, chair of the senate Banking, Commerce and International Trade committee. "We never had an overall policy or a justification for why we had these trade offices. When you looked at the cost, it didn't add up."
Florez said the governor had never made a proposal about what to do with the trade offices before now. There were several bills introduced last year to re-establish offices, but no agreement could be reached among lawmakers and the administration on the proper oversight.
"That's an issue that is still unsettled, so I would urge the governor to move with caution," said the chair of the Assembly committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy, Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Leimert Park (Los Angeles County). He said the idea raises questions such as how the offices would be paid for once the money from Schwarzenegger ran out and whether any company involved in the deal would expect special treatment.
"Ad hoc actions of this sort could really prove to be problematic. We would be operating in the blind in terms what would or would not be acceptable or appropriate."
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