County mayor on the move

County mayor on the move

October 10th, 2010 by Dan Whisenhunt in Politics Local

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey travels the world hunting business opportunities and the taxpayers pay for it, spending more than $30,000 on Ramsey's overseas trips since 2005.

His latest journey took him to Germany from Sept. 17 to Sept. 27, including stops in Berlin and Munich, county records show. He said he met with officials at Volkswagen and SIAG Aerisyn, which makes towers to hold wind turbines. He didn't detail his schedule.



* Place: Graz, Austria

* Reason: Economic development

* Cost: $3,395


* Place: Zurich, Switzerland

* Reason: Economic development

* Cost: $1,483

* Place: Tokyo, Japan

* Reason: Joint Meeting with Southeast U.S./Japan Association

* Cost: $3,912

* Place: Beijing, China

* Reason: China Trade Mission

* Cost: $5,743


* Place: Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, Germany

* Reason: Volkswagen supplier mission

* Cost: $10,013


* Place: Hannover, Wolfsburg, Emden and Lemforde, Germany

* Reason: Volkswagen suppliers

Cost: $2,826


* Place: Hannover and Frankfurt, Germany

* Reason: Economic development

* Cost: $2,750

( Data for 2010 Germany trip unavailable)

Source: Hamilton County Finance Division

"It was a mixture of things, and I'm not going to be real specific about contacts," he said.

Foreign investment in Chattanooga is a direct result of these trips, Ramsey said. And even trips that don't directly sprout a new business plant the seeds for future opportunities, Ramsey said.

Since 2005, the county paid for overseas trips to Europe and Asia. Records show he took his wife, Jan, with him on the trip to Asia and he said she went with him on his most recent trip. Ramsey said he paid her way both times.

Records show Ramsey travels modestly. He frequently flies coach and economy, and records didn't show any unusual purchases. County Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said Ramsey carries a county purchasing card, similar to a credit card. Wright, who is Ramsey's employee, approves his purchases.

"In terms of travel he is at the top of the line as far as approval goes," Wright said. He said the purchasing cards prevent Ramsey from spending taxpayer money on things like liquor or a day at the spa.

Ramsey said he frequently pays expenses out of pocket.

"I pick up more than I have to," Ramsey said. "You buy meals that you could charge that you don't charge, you'll end up paying for a taxi ride to something that you don't get reimbursed on."

While the purpose of these trips is luring businesses to Hamilton County, Ramsey said he does not miss a sightseeing opportunity if he can fit it in.

"You work harder than you might imagine. You stay busy but if you've got a chance to see the Great Wall of China you do that," he said.

His favorite place to visit?

"I like Germany," he said, and not only because it's home to Volkswagen.

"That's one reason you like them. I think it's an interesting country," he said.

Ramsey said he has traveled with Matthew Kisber, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Assistant ECD Commissioner Mark Drury pointed to department statistics as proof of the success of these missions.

In 2009, the department reported that foreign companies have invested $21.5 billion in the state and employ more than 100,000 people. Investment from Germany alone totals $2.5 billion and resulted in jobs for more than 10,000 people, the department reports.

"Many of the projects that have resulted in those numbers have resulted from trade missions from having the governor and commissioner go meet with business executives in foreign countries and talk to them about the business climate in Tennessee," Drury said.

Volkswagen's $1 billion Hamilton County auto assembly plant is scheduled to begin production early in 2011.

Hamilton County Commissioner Jim Coppinger, who chairs the commission's Finance Committee, said Ramsey is "an ambassador of this county." He considers layouts for travel "money well spent."

"Given the results, it's not a lot of money," he said.