Korean office for Mo. marketing shut down

Budget constraints force lawmakers to focus on returns.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:11 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An office charged with marketing Missouri products in South Korea is targeted to be closed by July 1.

The move to shutter the Seoul, South Korea, office follows the House Budget Committee’s recommendation to slice more than $800,000 from the division that oversees the marketing offices in the Department of Economic Development.

The House is expected to vote on those cuts this week.

Given the expected budget reductions, department officials concluded that the state’s limited development dollars could be spent better elsewhere, department spokesman Paul Sloca said Monday.

“We had to determine what type of return we were getting for our investment, and we determined that keeping the Korean office open was not worth us having a presence (in Korea),” he said.

Korea ranks as Missouri’s 15th largest trading partner with more than $113 million worth of exports in 2004. Chemicals, transportation equipment and machinery are among Missouri’s biggest exports to Korea.

Closing the Korea office is expected to save the state about $121,000 for the next budget year.

But some question whether shutting down an office that promotes Missouri trade is a good idea.

“I would like to know why they put a target on that particular office, and I want to make sure we’re not closing the door on economic activity and jobs in Missouri for companies like Boeing,” said Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis, who serves on the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee.

Besides the Korea office, Missouri has six other marketing offices across the globe, including three in Mexico and one each in Japan, Taiwan and China. The Shanghai, China, office — expected to cost the state $150,000 annually — opened in December.

In October, the state shut down its London office due to high costs, Sloca said.

The state contracts with individuals in the various countries to run the marketing offices. They work one-on-one with Missouri companies interested in doing business abroad and help promote Missouri products at trade shows.

After the Korea office closes, state officials will make every effort to keep helping Missouri companies wanting to do business in that country, said Randa Hayes, director of the department’s division of business development and trade.

“We’re going to find a way to help the businesses do the things they need to do,” Hayes said.

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