First it was Texas Gov. Rick Perry who came to California with his cowboy swagger and boasts about lassoing away businesses. Then the South Dakota governor swept through to recruit dairy farmers. Soon after, the Iowa governor made an appearance.
Now they’re coming in pairs.
Joining forces, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell are heading to California on Thursday to try their luck at wooing California businesses. On a two-day tour with stops in Costa Mesa, Palo Alto and San Francisco, the old friends plan to tout the wonders of doing business in their states.
But their campaign will be markedly less pugnacious than that of their Lone Star State counterpart, who ran radio ads in February declaring that “building a business in California is next to impossible.” Herbert and McDonnell insist their trip is less raiding party and more friendship tour.
“This shouldn’t be looked at as any kind of conspiracy,” Herbert said by phone. “We are not targeting California.”
McDonnell agreed. “Friendly competition is just good for states,” he said in a separate interview.
It’s a long-standing tradition for governors of other states to woo companies with tax credits and other incentives. But the rivalry has most often been limited to governors of neighboring states who sometimes engage in the kind of trash talk more befitting locker rooms than corporate suites.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, for one, couldn’t resist a snarky shot at his peers.
“We thank the two governors for coming to one of our leading tourist destinations and adding their cash to our state’s $100-billion-a-year tourism industry,” said Riley Robbins, spokesman at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “They’ll discover what many Californians already know: It’s more fun to go to Disneyland with a friend.”
In response, McDonnell and Herbert both chuckled and maintained their respectful stance toward California. The goal, they said, was to lure companies that want to expand, not persuade businesses to pick up stakes altogether.
McDonnell said he plans to chat with technology and entertainment firms. Tax credits intended to nurture Virginia’s budding film industry have already lured Hollywood heavyweights such as Steven Spielberg, who shot his Oscar-winning movie “Lincoln” in Virginia in 2011.
“My campaign slogan was ‘Bob’s for Jobs.’ ” McDonnell said.
For his part, Herbert said he’s eyeing venture capital firms in the Bay Area that are looking for exciting new start-ups to fund.
Referring to the notorious criminal Willie Sutton, Herbert said, “They asked him, ‘Why do you rob banks?’ He said, ‘Because that’s where the money is at, Judge.’ Part of the reason for California is that’s where the money is at for venture capital.”
As may be expected, the state chiefs say there will be some good-natured ribbing on this trip between the two longtime buddies.
Herbert called it competition for “bragging rights.”
“I would much rather they pick Virginia” instead of Utah, McDonnell said.
Many economists have said such trips often lack results. Very few companies are dazzled enough by visiting governors to move out of state, they said.
“What a waste of time,” said David Neumark, an economics professor at UC Irvine.
“Governors play this game,” he said. And if even one company moves, “then the governor will take a lot of credit and jump up and down and scream.”
Neumark said nurturing a thriving business environment at home is much better for a state’s economy than poaching from another region. “But that’s not news; that’s not a photo op,” he said.
But both governors will be contributing to the California economy — although not at Disneyland.
“We will drop a few dollars,” Herbert said. “We will stay in hotels and eat at some of your restaurants.”
The Utah leader said he has a vested interested in the Golden State’s future.
“I have property in California,” he said. “I wish Gov. Brown the best.”