The Associated Press
MUNCIE, Ind. — Delaware County officials are defending their decision to send three officials to China on an economic development trip at a time when the county is trying to cut millions of dollars from its budgets.
"This is a necessity," County Commissioners President Larry Bledsoe said of the decision to send Commissioner James King and two others on the trip. "You have to be on somebody's radar to attract jobs. If you do not visit Asia or Europe and try to establish relationships, you won't have them locate in your backyard."
The cost to send King and economic development officials Brad Bookout and Terry Murphy could reach up to $6,000 per traveler. Bledsoe said that's "money well spent" and noted that the county's share of the trip costs will come from a special pool set aside for economic development, not from property taxes that fund most operations of government.
The trip comes as county officials consider limiting services, laying off employees and taking other steps to cut budgets left in the red because of property tax caps and drops in other revenue.
The commissioners recently announced they wouldn't participate in a welcome center planned for west of Muncie because the county didn't have more than $200,000 in matching funds to contribute to the $4 million project.
Bledsoe pointed out that the $6,000 cost of the trip is far less than what the county would have paid for the welcome center.
"Six thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but the payoff could benefit local families with new jobs down the road," he said.
King agreed, saying the county can't afford to wait for companies to come to it.
"This is not a vacation," he said.
The 10-day trip next month will be the first by local officials since June 2012. It is one of the few that isn't part of a state economic development mission led by the governor.
The trip will include meetings with new business prospects and return visits to companies and organizations contacted in previous trips.