COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and state commerce officials have planned a trip to Canada to recruit jobs, her office told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The Republican governor and three Commerce officials will travel March 31 to Toronto, where Haley will speak at the Economic Club of Canada. They will travel to Ottawa the following day, where she will give a presentation to the Canadian Club of Ottawa. The three-day economic development trip will conclude April 2 after meetings in Montreal.
David Wilkins, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush, is accompanying the group at his own expense, her office said.
Wilkins helped coordinate the mission to Canada, which is a first for Haley's administration, and Wilkins — South Carolina's former House speaker — will attend every meeting, said Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.
"Canada is one of our longest-standing partners" in tourism and trade, Hitt said. "The main purpose is to reinforce and further create ties. It's important to touch base."
Canada has long been a top export market for South Carolina and remained at No. 2 last year, when $3.7 billion in South Carolina-made goods went there. Canada also ranked fourth last year in foreign investments, with 50 companies employing 7,000 South Carolinians, Hitt said.
Those include Gildan Activewear, pulp and paper manufacturer Resolute Forest Products, and TD Bank, which announced plans in late 2011 to put a regional hub in Greenville and create 1,600 new jobs in South Carolina over five years.
Accompanying Haley will be Commerce's deputy secretary, international trade director, and a project manager for global business — a French-Canadian who had led South Carolina's Commerce office in Canada. But that office closed during former Gov. Mark Sanford's tenure amid budget cuts, according to the economic development agency.
Hitt said other Southeastern states' economic agencies still have a permanent office in Canada, which is one reason for the trip.
Haley has also traveled to job-recruiting conferences overseas, including to Germany last September with Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt for the world's biggest show for the automotive industry. The 65th International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, represented the first time a South Carolina governor has attended the biennial event.
She attended the Paris Air Show in 2011, the year Boeing opened a plant in North Charleston. Critics called it a taxpayer-funded junket and vacation. Commerce's $160,000 spending on that trip included expensive hotel rooms and, for the first time, renting a chalet for events. That trip extended to Munich, where officials toured BMW headquarters.
Commerce spokeswoman Allison Skipper said Tuesday it was at that air show that Haley and Hitt met with officials of Tokyo-based Toray Industries, which announced this week plans to invest $1 billion and hire 500 people in Spartanburg County over the next decade. Skipper said other successes stemming from that trip include GKN's announcement in late 2011 that it would invest $38 million and create 250 jobs in Orangeburg over six years.