Mayor Ballard visiting India on trade mission

Mayor Greg Ballard (R-IN)

Mayor Greg Ballard left for a five-day trade mission to India Thursday afternoon, his eighth trade mission since 2008. Others have included trips to Australia, China, the UK and Brazil. It's left critics asking where the jobs are, and they're wondering when they'll see the pay-off.

"Hopefully he brings something back from this trip," said Marion County Democratic Chair Joel Miller.

The group will visit Hyderabad and New Delhi and focus on information technology, life sciences and research organizations. Indy Chamber is paying for the trip.

"We're doing different things over there. One is to strengthen the relationship with Hyderabad. We're talking with the American chamber over there. I think we're representing the city and country well with the conference in Delhi," said the mayor, speaking to Eyewitness News at the airport.

Ballard, joined by his wife Winne and six local leaders, said the goal of this and other trips is to "strengthen relationships" and build opportunities for economic development. A summary provided by the Indy Chamber shows over the course of the mayor's seven trips abroad, he's visited 25 separate cities and met with 55 companies.

"It's not 'am I bringing back jobs.' It's 'are we creating relationships that will lead to things in the future?'" he said.

In response Miller said, "I understand that, but can we go back to the first trips he made and can he show us the relationships he built that have produced fruit and if not, why not retool our approach to economic development?"

Bill Rieber, a professor of economics at Butler University, said, the mayor's trips aren't unusual.

"Most mayors of major cities travel to foreign countries to build relationships," Rieber said.

As for the pay-off?

"These are long-term investments," he said. "It's difficult to identify immediate pay-offs [but] it sends the right signal that Indy is open to foreign commerce and international business."

The mayor said his trips aren't just about bringing jobs here but helping Indianapolis companies get work aboard.

Ballard said during his trip to China, Ratio Architects was able to sign an agreement with a Chinese design institute which opens the firm to work there.

But Miller said it's not just the trips he questions, but who's paying and "what's expected from the money paid?"

The India trip, like the others is being led by Develop Indy, an arm of the Indy Chamber, which is "privately funding the trip."

When asked how much the trip cost, particularly the mayor's portion, a chamber spokesperson Molly Deuberry said, "We don't disclose that."

While Develop Indy does get $1.5 million a year from the city, Deuberry stressed money for the trips comes from a separate fund.

Tax documents filed by Develop Indy show it's spent increasingly more on international travel the last three years. In 2011, it spend nearly $89,000 on international travel, up from $60,000 in 2010 and $15,000 in 2009.

Those documents provide destinations but do not provide the names or number of people traveling, dates or specific expenses. They do describe the purpose of the travel as "marketing Indianapolis, In to foreign companies."

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