DAVOS, Switzerland – Embarking on what he called a reluctant trade mission, Ohio Governor John Kasich said Friday that his state's economic comeback was generating interest — and potential new business opportunities — on the world stage in Switzerland.
Ohio's blue-collar voters have made it arguably the most important swing state in recent U.S. presidential elections, and President Barack Obama won the state in November by focusing on the controversial auto industry bailout. Kasich, who explored a presidential bid in the run-up to the 2000 election, also confirmed he would seek re-election in 2014.
The Republican governor, a former congressman who rose to House Budget Committee chairman before working as a Lehman Brothers investment banker and commentator on Fox News Channel, told The Associated Press that he was initially "very reluctant" to make the trip to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.
He decided to go, he said, after he realized that this week's gathering offered a valuable chance to court business and provide a global perspective. Davos is awash with top business leaders from around the world as well as many other high-profile people from the worlds of politics, academics and commerce.
"It's like a trade mission in one small little area," he said. "We focused almost exclusively on CEOs."
Kasich was involved in a number of panel discussions and held private meetings with about 15 executives from big companies to pitch ideas on investing in Ohio.
"The thing that I have been surprised by is that the people around have heard that things are getting better in Ohio," he said. "I've been shocked."
When talking with international leaders, Kasich said he emphasizes his willingness to work closely with business — a fact he credits for helping turn Ohio's $8 billion budget deficit into what he says will be a $1 billion surplus.
Among those he held business discussions were U.S.-based Dow Chemical Co. and Philips Healthcare, which announced thousands of layoffs last year and is a part of Netherlands-based Royal Philips Electronics.
His message: "We're open for business .... If you've got a big idea, come to Ohio."