The day Idaho Gov. Butch Otter met officials in Shanghai, the local newspaper ran a full-page story about Idaho.
The piece in the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post was one of 20 print, radio and TV stories generated by a May tour of Idaho by 13 foreign journalists whose visit was co-sponsored by the Idaho Department of Commerce and the U.S. State Department.
"We had a greater response than we expected," said Damien Bard, Commerce Department administrator for international business.
The reports focused on renewable energy, the state's quality of life and its low cost of doing business - all themes promoted by Idaho officials, businesses and the Idaho National Laboratory. The reporters came from from China, Taiwan, Japan, Austria, the Middle East and Switzerland.
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Wen Xian, Washington bureau chief of the People's Daily, suggested his visit changed his impression that Idaho was "remote and backward."
One of the things that influenced him was the work of Steve Hodges and the team at M2M Communications in Boise, which supplies remote control devices for irrigation, gas and electric systems. He wrote that the company's "reverse thinking," using wireless and remote technology to reduce energy use instead of focusing on creating new energy, was saving irrigators money and reducing power demand.
Wen also wrote how Leo Ray of Idaho Fish Co. near Twin Falls was using geothermal water to raise tropical fish.
Shanghai Oriental Morning Post reporter Liu Li reported on the nuclear industry's "spring" in the United States, the role of the Idaho National Laboratory and the Areva uranium enrichment plant planned near Idaho Falls.
"The Department of Energy's decision (on) Areva and Idaho are extremely good news," she quoted Idaho governor Ou Shijie (Butch Otter) saying. "The loan guarantees will continue to lead (the) Idaho U.S. nuclear industry's renaissance."
She also wrote at length about Idaho's tight budgeting policies and reported state officials claim that Idaho will be one of the states to recover first from the economic downturn.
"From the perspective of natural endowments and economic strength, Idaho in the U.S. is relatively trivial," she said in a separate report for the Xinhua news agency. "It was (not like) neighboring state (Wyoming with) the world-famous Yellowstone Park, and no kind of dazzling high-tech California."
Translations are inexact either way from English to Mandarin, but she said, "Until now, Idaho's business card is still a 'potato of the town.' "
The state spent less than $10,000 to cover expenses. (Neither the state nor the federal government paid the journalists' travel costs.) "It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if you had to pay for this kind of exposure," Bard said.
Still, Idaho is relatively unknown in China.
Bert Bowler of Boise was in China the same week as Otter, on a cruise boat on the Yangtze River. In his limited contacts with Chinese people, he found no one who knew where Idaho is, he said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484