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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

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Governor back after global economic trip

Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: Nov 14, 2006

Gov. Kathleen Blanco returned Monday from an economic development mission that took her around the world.

“There’s a lot of affinity for Louisiana around the world,” Blanco said after stepping off an airplane at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport on Monday night.

The governor visited business and government officials in Japan, China and Kuwait. She left Louisiana on Oct. 30.

So far, the most touted news to emerge from her trip is a state-owned Kuwaiti company’s agreement to explore the feasibility of building an oil refinery in Louisiana.

It would be the first new crude-oil refinery in the United States in 30 years.

The project is far from a done deal. The memorandum explicitly states that it does not “create any legally binding obligations.”

In the document, Louisiana agrees to support the efforts of Kuwait Petroleum Corp. and its strategic partners. One possible partner is Louisiana-based construction giant The Shaw Group.

Shaw Group Chief Executive Officer Jim Bernhard was on hand during the state’s talks in Kuwait, the governor said. Bernhard is the former chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party. He also gave his financial support to Blanco when she ran for governor.

Blanco downplayed the possible boon for Shaw in a new refinery, saying companies across the state stand to profit from the project.

“Every contractor in Louisiana is going to have business,” she said.

During the trip, Blanco also talked to Toyota Motor Corp. officials about what the state is calling a “mega site” for industry in Richland Parish east of Monroe.

The Blanco administration has talked about landing an automotive plant for the site.

Blanco said the purpose of her trip was to talk up Louisiana and to paint the state as a place for investment and expansion.

Other highlights of the trip included:

A meeting in Shanghai with the company behind a $5 billion synthetic fuel plant proposed for Ascension Parish.
A visit in Taiwan with Formosa Plastics Corp., which has a facility in Baton Rouge.
An investment roundtable in Hong Kong with bankers, insurance industry representatives and real estate investors.
Planting a magnolia tree at a semiconductor silicon crystal plant in Japan.
A meeting with Kuwait’s minister of energy.


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