Topeka A matter of protocol is sending Gov. Bill Graves overseas for a week.
But when the state's largest international trading partner and millions of dollars of exports are involved, protocol becomes important, the governor said Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer
Graves plans a trip to Japan and meetings with government officials and business leaders in Tokyo and Osaka. He was scheduled to leave today and return Sept. 14.
He is also scheduled to give the keynote address Tuesday to a conference of Japanese officials and representatives from 10 Midwestern states, including Kansas. The conference has been held annually since 1968.
Graves sees his real job as formally presenting an invitation to Japanese officials and business leaders to next year's event in Wichita. The annual conference alternates between Japan and the United States.
"It will be successful if I stay on script and deliver the invitation as it's written," Graves joked Wednesday during a news conference in his office.
The trip is only Graves' second international mission since he became governor in 1995. He visited Canada last year.
Japan imports more Kansas products than any other foreign nation, $948 million worth in 1999, according to the state Department of Commerce and Housing. Japanese imports accounted for 19.5 percent of the total worldwide from Kansas last year.
Graves noted that his picture, advertising Kansas beef, has appeared on the side of grocery store trucks in Japan.
The governor said he wants to make sure that Japanese business leaders are aware that the state is ready to help them bring new businesses to Kansas or expand existing ones.
"These trips are principally about networking," Graves said. "For them, I think, the courtesy, sort of the protocol, of saying thank you for your presence in our state is very meaningful for them."
The state exported more than $4.85 billion worth of products outside the United States last year. When Asian economies slumped in recent years, Canada temporarily replaced Japan as Kansas' biggest trading partner.
"This will be a very big deal in Japan," said Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who also is secretary of commerce and housing. "Him not being there would be very noticeable."
The Kansas delegation includes first lady Linda Graves and three Commerce Department officials. Also coming are officials with businesses, business groups and the Kansas Farm Bureau.
The governor said he hasn't made more international trips for family reasons. His daughter, Katie, turns 5 next month.
"Quite candidly, a lot of it had to do with Katie," Graves said. "The timing sort of tracks with her getting old enough and us feeling comfortable to be gone this extended period of time."