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The Ehrlich Tour

Governor Plans P.R. Blitz of Workplaces

'Marketing' Strategy Aims For 'Maximum Exposure,' End Run Around Reporters

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C04

The executives in blue suits milled about the lobby of TVI Corp.'s world headquarters, kibitzing as they awaited Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s arrival for one of the scores of corporate visits and office pep talks he will be delivering through the summer.

Rick Priddy, the tall, silver-haired chief executive of the Prince George's County company, smiled broadly when two black Ford Explorers with tinted glass pulled to the curb.

"We inherited a state with at times a shaky reputation in the business world. That's going to change," Ehrlich says. (Matthew S. Gunby -- AP)

"Truly an honor," Priddy said to his team, as a state trooper held open the building's front door, and a marketing executive snapped photos of Ehrlich for TVI's company newsletter.

For Ehrlich (R), the crack of the gavel that ended a contentious, 90-day legislative session in Annapolis this month also served as a starter's pistol. His staff has promised a vigorous tour -- a schedule packed with trips to nondescript industrial parks and glass high-rises.

The visits are part of Ehrlich's broad "marketing" strategy, described in an internal memo written by his communications director last summer and discussed in detail by the governor Thursday when he shared his insights with students at Towson University in suburban Baltimore.

The memo describes how the events can help Ehrlich "get maximum exposure" while "communicating this administration's commitment to creating jobs." Ehrlich told the students they enable him to do an end run around news reporters he doesn't trust.

In practice, as the governor's Wednesday visit to TVI made plain, they also let Ehrlich flex the muscles of incumbency by showing how his administration can help businesses, regardless of what storms may be roiling in the media as his 2006 reelection campaign takes shape.

His tour of TVI began with a quick walk along the perimeter of the 30,000-square-foot factory floor, where the homeland security company makes portable tents meant for containment of injured survivors in the aftermath of a dirty bomb or anthrax attack.

Ehrlich and his entourage examined the array of collapsible tents and isolation pods. Except for the cinder-block walls and safety signs, it resembled a camping display at Hudson Trail Outfitters. State Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott peered into one unit that looked like a mountaineer's sleeping shelter. Lying inside was a rubber manikin, meant to resemble a terrorism victim.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) stopped at a larger TVI product, designed to contain victims drenched in toxic chemicals. "This is niiiice," Steele said, caressing the tent's fabric.

In a second expansive warehouse, the visitors were led to a 100-yard-long contraption with conveyer belts, lights and panels of gauges and dials. Draped across the front was a red ribbon. Along the back wall was a crowd of TVI workers dressed in jeans and work boots.

Priddy stepped to a podium to welcome the guests and tell them about the $3 million manufacturing facility they were about to unveil with the snip of the red ribbon.

"When it comes to homeland security, there are no Democrats and Republicans," Priddy said. He told those gathered that the new machine will be making cartridges for gas masks, a product he said the Army plans to order in unimaginable quantities -- 22 million of the hockey-puck-size disks a year. The job is out for bid, Priddy said, turning to Ehrlich with a wink. "I am asking for support from all our elected officials for this contract," he said.

The governor nodded, stepped up to podium and promised to keep his remarks brief.

"You are in the vanguard of what the lieutenant governor and I are trying to do in the business community," he said. "We know we inherited a state with at times a shaky reputation in the business world. That's going to change."

When Ehrlich finished, he posed for photos with scissors in his hand, and snipped. He then tossed his blazer to an aide and waded into the crowd of startled workers. "Come on, you guys, let's get a picture," the governor said, wrapping an arm over the shoulder of Kenny Dang, 45, a Vietnamese immigrant who has worked at TVI for 23 years. Dang smiled as marketing director Mary Jones snapped several shots.

Back in the lobby, Ehrlich's press secretary tried to move him toward the door. The state's secretary of business and economic development gripped Priddy by the elbow. "You know, the secretary of the Army is a good friend of mine," Aris Melissaratos told Priddy.

"Oh, really?" Priddy replied, eyes growing wide. "Well, let me get you some information."

Melissaratos promised a follow-up call, and he and Priddy shook hands firmly.

In business, they'd call that closing a deal.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company