SEOUL, OCT. 14 -- Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, citing Confucius and quoting Korean poetry, neared the end today of a 17-day swing through the Far East designed to sell Virginia products as diverse as chicken feet and the Hampton Roads port.
At a meeting of the Seoul Rotary Club, Baliles, a Richmond Rotarian, joined in choruses of the Korean national anthem and Virginia's state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," and then delivered the message he has carried from Japan to Taiwan, Hong Kong and here.
"Trade is Virginia's history and its destiny," the Democratic governor said. "Trade is our route to a happier future."
To bring that future closer, Baliles said in an interview, he and his entourage of more than a dozen state officials and a hundred industrialists spent the last two weeks making business contacts and identifying opportunities for Virginia trade. He could not list any concrete results, but said he expects the trip will bear fruit soon.
"Too often the expectation is, if you don't come back with immediate contracts, success has not been achieved," Baliles said. "Particularly in Japan, decisions are made by consensus, over time, after study . . . . They want to see the chief executive."
In this case, Virginia's Asian trading partners got to see not only the chief executive, but also officials from the Virginia Port Authority, the departments of economic development and agriculture and a host of others, including three state troopers who provided security.
Officials could not provide a cost estimate for the trip. Baliles paid for his wife Jeannie to travel with him as far as Japan, and the business executives paid their own way.
A shorter trip to China this year, which involved fewer staff members, cost about $30,000, an aide to the governor said. But Baliles said that even this costlier trip would pay for itself if it generates just one new factory or other investment in Virginia.
Concluding his third overseas trip during what he has dubbed the Year of Trade, Baliles said his mission reflects how dependent Virginia has become on the world economy.
"For 200 years, we've been able to trade among ourselves," he said in an interview. "That's no longer true. In Virginia, our competition for economic growth is no longer South Carolina, it's South Korea."
Nonetheless, Baliles found himself competing with six other southeastern governors who attended the same conferences. In selling the virtues of Virginia's ports, he was competing in particular with Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who touted the Port of Baltimore during a similar trip last month.
Like officials from the other southeastern states, Baliles and his aides boasted of relatively low wages and strong right-to-work laws, and the governor tried to distinguish Virginia from the pack by touting its commitment to education, transportation and quality of life.
"You can't just do it on the basis of low wages," he said. "You'll always find somebody, somewhere, with a lower wage scale."
Thus Baliles also sought to distinguish himself by showing some sensitivity to local cultures. In Japan, he talked about the ancient samurai code of Bushido; in Korea, he quoted poetry.
"Poems are particularly revealing of Korea -- at least, I have found as much in the work of Du-jin Park and Sol-wol Kim," he told a conference organized by the Southeast U.S.-Korea Economic Committee.
All of this was aimed at expanding Virginia's international contacts. More than 350 foreign firms, employing about 8 percent of the state's manufacturing work force, have invested in Virginia, and Baliles said he hoped the number would grow.
The governor said that 25 years ago 10 percent of the gross national product came from trade, compared with 27 percent last year.
"The world has changed," he said. "The states that recognize the value of commerce, who take the long-term view, will be able to capitalize."
Hugh D. Keogh, director of economic development for Virginia, said discussions were held with several outfits, including Yokohama Academy, a preparatory school considering opening a branch in the United States. He said Baliles and the delegation also held talks on selling more tobacco to Taiwan, more soybeans to South Korea and more chicken feet (for soup) in Hong Kong.
Keogh said Virginia had staffed a trade office in Brussels for almost two decades, but had done so in Japan only since 1981. As a result, he said, the state has been too slow attracting Japanese investment and now is trying to position itself to woo firms from the fast-growing economies of Taiwan and South Korea.