Rockefeller takes trip to Taiwan

January 04, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller will use his visit to Taiwan this week to strengthen relationships that have brought the prospect of more than 1,000 jobs to the Eastern Panhandle.

Speaking from his Wyoming vacation home last Thursday a few days before embarking Saturday on a three-week trade mission to Asia, the West Virginia Democrat said the Taiwan portion of his Project Harvest trip will include meetings with officials from Sino Swearingen and TLM Aerospace.

"Anytime you go to Asia you're in the business of building relationships," Rockefeller said.

A new Sino Swearingen aircraft plant in Martinsburg is expected to begin production this year on corporate business jets and construction is under way on a new TLM facility in Martinsburg that will produce single-engine, four-passenger airplanes. Rockefeller said the TLM and the Sino Swearingen plants in Martinsburg will employ 400 and 800 people, respectively.

President Clinton's impending impeachment hearings in the U.S. Senate, however, could throw a wrench in Rockefeller's travel plans.


Rockefeller said he will spend the first two days in Taiwan but might have to fly back as soon as Wednesday or Thursday for procedural votes in the U.S. Senate.

"I've packed enough clothes for three countries," he said.

Rockefeller, however, said the Taiwan portion of the trip is the most critical one for the Eastern Panhandle and added the trade delegation will continue on to Japan and China even if he must fly back to the United States.

The Asian financial crisis has made this year's mission more difficult, he said, but not impossible.

Pointing to the TLM project, Rockefeller said slowing Asian economic growth forced officials to make adjustments in the financing of the new Martinsburg plant.

"You work at it and you work at it," he said.

This year's Project Harvest trade mission - the third since 1995 and made up of West Virginia bankers, corporate and economic development officials - does not include any participants from the Eastern Panhandle.

Rockefeller said one of the goals of the Asian trip is to market other parts of West Virginia for potential business opportunities.

Rockefeller said the Eastern Panhandle's proximity to Washington, D.C., and the existence of other Taiwanese investments in the region makes it an easier sell in Asia. The desire, he said, is to market the entire state of West Virginia for investments and exports to foreign countries.

Rockefeller said he expects the Taiwan economy to pick up faster than other parts of Asia "especially four to five years down the road" and added the wait will be worth the benefits.

"In Asia anything is potentially possible - exports and imports," he said. "With the potential for jobs for the West Virginia economy it's totally worth working at."

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