Japanese executives operate by protocol. Leaders should meet leaders. That's why six governors attended the 15th annual meeting of the Southeast U.S.-Japan Association in Atlanta. Trouble is, there are seven Southern states in the association, formed by a compact in the 1970s to promote economic development. And seven governors were supposed to be there Oct. 7-9 to meet Japan's top business leaders.
Gov. Bob Martinez didn't attend that meeting. Instead he went to church on Sunday Oct. 7, was briefed on Florida Cabinet matters on the 8th and attended the Cabinet meeting on the 9th, said Jon Peck, the governor's press secretary.
Martinez's failure to attend "was a slap in the face to the Japanese," said Robert Payne, executive director of the Japan-America Society of Central Florida, based in Tampa.
Critics say the lapse on that foreign front typifies Martinez's performance during a time when trade and international investment have become key economic issues for Florida.
The Atlanta meeting was populated with a host of Japanese government and business officials, including heads of Japanese corporations, such as Nissan Motor Co.
These conferences serve as places to do business, said Nat Turnbull Jr., Florida's first director of international development and longtime participant in U.S.-Asian trade groups.
Said John Bierley, a Tampa attorney and chairman of the Florida delegation to the meeting, "It was an affront to the Japanese. (They) are very hierarchical people. One chief talks to another chief. Our chief wasn't there."
Martinez was so conspicuous by his absence that he "was the talk of the conference," said Bierley.
"(Martinez) has cost Florida," said Turnbull. "I supported him because I thought he would be good for international business. He doesn't do the basic functions. He should go back to governor's school."
Asked whether he would support Martinez now, Turnbull replied, "Are you kidding?"
On the criticism of Martinez's performance, Peck said, "You can always find someone to say something negative. Some people are upset that the state is not spending enough money. It's the governor's position that the private sector should play a stronger role."
There are other examples of Martinez's oversights in international matters:
By Sept. 1, Martinez was supposed to appoint members to the recently formed 26-member Florida International Affairs Commission. The legally mandated deadline has passed, and no members have been appointed, even though the governor has received hundreds of applications .
Said Rep. Art Simon, D-Miami, the principal author of the bill to form the commission, "I can't get an answer why."
Peck said, "There is a backlog of appointments. It's a complicated process."
The delay in the commission appointments will keep the commission from meeting certain deadlines for reports and could interfere with its involvement in a Caribbean trade conference in December, Simon said.
As a result, Simon said, Florida is falling further behind in international trade and development.
"We could end up losing a whole year because of the delay. I guarantee you the other states aren't waiting for Florida to get started," he said.
Simon further criticizes the governor for falling well below the standards set by previous governors in promoting international business. Simon says the governor's office fought the international trade bill that was finally passed.
"The governor's office was an impediment . . . (Martinez) had the gall to point to international trade as a priority item (in his state of the state address) after three years of doing nothing."
Secretary of Commerce William L. Sutton defends Martinez, saying that the governor has made trips to Europe and is well versed on trade issues. "His heart is in the right place," said Sutton.
Sutton said the governor has many demands on his time and can't attend every international trade event. He admits, however, that from a protocol standpoint Florida was no match for the other Southeastern states in Atlanta. "They send their first team," Sutton said.
Martinez has snubbed other Asian groups as well. He has attended none of the meetings of the Southeast U.S.-Korean Economic Cooperation Committee.
"I've gotten nothing but form letters saying he can't come," said Turnbull, who is chairman of the Florida-Korea Economic Cooperation Committee.
He said his frustration was heightened because Koreans had earmarked Florida as the one of the locations they desired most.
"I'll tell you what happened at a conference in Virginia two years ago. We held a reception and as the evening wore on, no one was there. Of all the states we had the biggest room," said Turnbull.
"Finally toward the end some of the Korean dignitaries and chairmen arrived. I asked them why they were so late. They said the other governors were there and ours wasn't. They had to go to the other states first. That means we are at the bottom of the list in their minds."
When Martinez entered office there was an annual meeting called the Governor's Conference on World Trade and Investment.
Martinez attended the first two, but failed to show up for the keynote address at the third held in Palm Beach. He also failed to attend the one this summer.
Last year Commerce was told to drop the word "governor" from the title.
"That way he can miss and not be criticized," said Simon.
In Atlanta at the Southeast U.S.-Japan meeting, other governors attended, though they too were in heated campaigns for re-election.
Bierley said, "The governor of Alabama is running for his political life. He had the time, though he looked white as a sheet."
Florida, among Southeastern states, is dead last in attracting Japanese manufacturing jobs, trailing by thousands of jobs such states as South Carolina and Tennessee. (See chart).
Officials involved in international trade say the governor has made only a token effort to keep Florida competitive with other Southeastern states.
Bierley said that budget cuts in 1989-90 forced the state to stop paying its representatives in Tokyo. But he said the lack of executive leadership has been the main problem.
"There was no push from the governor," said Bierley. "I think Commerce has done a good job, but it's the governor's office that has dropped the ball."
Bay area businesses owned by Japanese
C. Itoh Digital Products
Business: marketing and sales of computers and related products
Ownership: C. Itoh & Co.
Nissho Iwai American Corp.
Business: import/export steel products
Ownership: Nissho Iwai Corp.
Zen-Noh Unico America Corp.
Business: phosphate mining
Ownership: Zen-Noh (National Fed of Agro Japan)
Tampa Bay Research Institute
Business: cancer research
Ownership: Showa University
Business: manufacturing gold jewelry
Ownership: C. Itoh & Co., Kuwayama Kikinzoku KK
Belleview Mido Resort Hotel
Business: resort hotel
Ownership: MIDO Development Co., Ltd.
SI-TEX Marine Electronics, Inc.
Business: distribution and sales of radar, echo sounds, Loran devices.
Ownership: Koden Electronics, Ltd.
Sources: Japan-America Society of Central Florida, Inc., Florida Department of Commerce, Times research.