This week, Gov. Chris Gregoire is leading a state trade delegation to Asia that will focus on drumming up business. Gregoire will be selling apples and showing off our wine and seafood, among other things. She'll also be taking in the world's fair in Shanghai.
While visitors tend to marvel at the architecture and exhibits at expos, nuts-and-bolts business is done there too. National pavilions often provide VIP facilities for bringing government and trade officials and business leaders together. While the USA Pavilion has been criticized for its emphasis on corporate sponsors, world's fairs are in part about global trade.
At the very first expo in London in 1851, Prince Albert announced a new era of rapid globalization. New York's World Trade Center grew out of an idea hatched at the New York World's Fair of 1939. So Gregoire will be in an appropriate spot for hobnobbing with dealmakers in China.
One item on the agenda, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, is a fancy shindig at the Shangri-La Hotel in the Pudong district of Shanghai, featuring Washington wines and "over 300 pounds of crab, black cod, smoked salmon and salmon caviar." Shanghai is no stranger to fine seafood, and the Shangri-La Hotel routinely offers fabulous international buffets (I've sampled them). So the Washingtonians will have to be on their game to impress.
Gregoire is not the only governor to find the way to Shanghai, but it will be hard for her to top the recent announcement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He threw his weight behind a proposal for the San Francisco Bay Area to host a world's fair in 2020. The idea has been brewing for some time. Currently, it is conceived as a Silicon Valley fair (imagine a Google pavilion), and Schwarzenegger supports a specific site: Sunnyvale's Moffett Field, once home to military airships and now the home of a NASA research center.
According to press reports, a group has been working on the concept of redeveloping Moffett Field near San Jose on the San Francisco Peninsula. It's a historic district, which makes it tricky as a fair site, but a University of California-backed committee has been looking into turning it into an academic center.
Pulling off a fair won't be easy: They're expensive, require considerable public funding, and the U.S. would have to re-join the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) in Paris, the global body governing fairs. To get full international participation, a fair must receive sponsorship from the BIE, and priority for hosting fairs goes to BIE members.
The U.S., however, has hosted unsanctioned fairs before, most notably the corporate-dominated New York World's Fair of 1964-65. That fair lost money and lacked considerable international participation.
A number of other cities are in the running for 2020 (you can see the latest here). Large fairs are planned years in advance. And it is not uncommon for fairs to be developed in tough economic times. New York's fair in 1939 and Chicago's Century of Progress fair in 1933 were seen as ways to help their cities cope with the Great Depression. However, the U.S. has not hosted a fair since 1984.
The budget-cutting Gregoire likely won't return inspired with a "Let's do a fair" mentality. She might be happy simply to have resolved a problem with the Chinese: the "gray market" for apples.
Still, Shanghai has a way of making people think big, so you never know.