County exec, councilman to journey to Dubai

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and a county councilman have an exotic itinerary in the month ahead: a trip to the Persian Gulf, where they will talk trade with movers and shakers in the United Arab Emirates.

Reardon and Councilman Dave Gossett will join a trade mission of 85 Puget Sound-area delegates. Their fellow travelers come from the ranks of business, labor and government.

One of the biggest reasons for the trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi is Boeing, Snohomish County’s largest employer. The Boeing Co. maintains its Middle East headquarters in the Emirates and is sending seven high-level employees with the trade delegation.

“We can secure additional purchases of Boeing airplanes,” Reardon said. “We can help create additional jobs in a very dire economy.”

The executive won’t need to use any county money for the trip, he said, because the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce is picking up his tab.

The generosity stems in part, Reardon said, from Boeing’s request that he be one of the leaders of the trade mission. The other leader is land-use attorney Tayloe Washburn, the current chairman of the Seattle chamber.

“Boeing asked me to lead the delegation to the U.A.E. a month ago and informed me that this may be the most important trade mission” for the company and the region, Reardon said.

Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates and the federation’s capital. Dubai, a hub of Middle East commerce, is known for its glitz and large expatriate community.

The Emirates aren’t as remote from Western Washington as geography or climate might suggest. In fact, the U.A.E. is the state’s sixth-largest export market. Microsoft, which is sponsoring parts of the program, has its Middle East headquarters in the U.A.E.

Emirates-based airlines are some of Boeing’s best customers, with nearly 250 jets on order. Etihad Airways has 45, Emirates 48 and low-cost carrier flydubai, 50. Dubai Aerospace Enterprise awaits 100.

There are important links in the world of higher education, too. The University of Washington recently started an outreach program in the U.A.E. Seattle University’s president is going on the trip. Top U.A.E. leaders also have studied in Washington.

Gossett said he wound up going almost by accident. He’s flying on a fully-paid ticket that otherwise would have gone to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce president and Chief Executive Steve Leahy, who recently resigned. Gossett, who serves as treasurer of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle, another sponsor, said he was nominated to fill the slot because of his familiarity with trade issues and with Boeing.

“Anything that isn’t included I’m going to be paying out of my own pocket,” he said. “So this won’t cost the county a cent.”

In the past, the county had paid all or part of similar organized trips to destinations such as Ireland, China, Australia and Finland. The economic situation caused the county council to strip the 2009 budget of money for traveling outside the U.S.

Most of the delegation to the Emirates leaves on Wednesday and returns on March 14. Schedules show meeting-packed days, with slots for the U.S. ambassador and Emirati officials. Delegates plan to talk to major U.A.E. airlines and port-related businesses, such as DP World, which has marine terminals in 30 countries.

Other delegates include Port of Everett Commissioner Connie Niva; commissioners from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma; two Seattle city council members; a Bellevue city councilman; and union representatives. Participating companies include Microsoft, developer Vulcan Inc., LMN Architects, Kauri Investments and auditing firm KPMG.

Herald reporter Michelle Dunlop contributed to this report. Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465 or nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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