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Wooing business at Paris Air Show


LE BOURGET, France - The talk at the Paris Air Show this week was not just of the latest in aerial technology, but of business, as states from Alabama to Washington showed up, often in splashy ways, to sell themselves to foreign companies and investors.

Some of the efforts were quite sophisticated. The Alabama delegation had a roster of events in Paris and a colorful booth at the airfield with the theme that Alabama was super pour le developpement economique. The state's promotional literature prominently noted that Alabama was discovered in 1702 by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.

New Mexico had marketing help from Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of the aviator Charles Lindbergh, whose 1927 trans-Atlantic flight landed at Le Bourget Field. Arizona's bright orange display said it had a "perfect aerospace climate" - a claim also made by New Mexico.

At New Mexico's simple booth, Frank G. O'Mahony of the state's Economic Development Department had to overcome confusion by many foreigners who got the state mixed up with the country of Mexico or who saw it in terms of "Billy the Kid and the Wild West," O'Mahony said.

Maryland, which contains such military giants as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, had a different identity problem: While those companies are household names in global aerospace, the state itself is not. Most foreign investors associate Washington, D.C., with those companies, not realizing they are actually across the state line in Maryland.

For that reason, Thomas Kingston, a senior director at Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, handed out a big map. It showed Washington in the center surrounded by Maryland, with dots representing the locations of aerospace and defense contractors.

In Maryland's favor is a desire by foreign companies to do business with the Pentagon and a need to team up with an American contractor to get through the Pentagon's door.

"If these foreign companies want to partner up to get Pentagon contracts, we can help facilitate that," Kingston said.

Yet, for all the efforts to be foreign-friendly, old habits are hard to break.

At the Maryland booth, baseball, a sport not played extensively in Europe, was the big theme. There were posters of Cal Ripken Jr. and a large-screen television showing baseball games. Even a reception at the air show that Maryland was planning for foreign prospects was themed "Play Ball."

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