Did Oklahoma Taxpayers Get Money's Worth From Paris Airshow Trip?

Thursday, October 6th 2011, 5:53 pm
By: News On 6

Emily Baucum, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Outrage is growing after it was revealed Wednesday that Oklahoma state employees took a trip to Paris on the taxpayer's dime.

Taxpayers shelled out nearly $84,000 for four people to represent Oklahoma at the International Air Show in Paris this summer.

They were in Paris to bring business back to Oklahoma aviation companies. News On 6 wanted to know -- if the high-dollar trip paid off.

The Sooner State's ingenuity was front and center at June's International Air Show with the debut of Boeing's 787 -- built with Oklahoma parts.

Four state employees were also there to bolster Oklahoma's role in the aviation industry. The Tulsa Metro Chamber did not make the trip.

But, Mike Neal, its President and CEO, says conventions like the International Air Show provide invaluable networking opportunities.

"You have to be there. If you're not there, you're not visible. Out of sight, out of mind," Neal said.

The four workers spent more than $3,000 on airfare. Add in taxi rides, meals and the hotel bill and the state employees racked up more than $14,000 in travel claims.

They stayed at a luxury hotel right off the Champs-Elysees. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce says it was one of the less expensive hotels sponsored by the convention.

"It's also extremely expensive for exhibit space. You have to pay a whole lot of money," Neal said.

The Department of Commerce says it cost more than $33,000 just to rent the space -- and another $32,000 to build its booth.

Employees spent $25,000 to develop leads on investors, nearly $14,000 for marketing materials, plus another $5,000 for research and shipping costs.

The Department of Commerce says the Air Show trip cost a total of more than $154,000. Nine companies put up about $70,000. That puts the government bill at just under $84,000.

The price tag prompted state lawmaker Mike Reynolds to call the trip "nonsense." He says aerospace companies should have gone not state employees.

Tulsa's chamber disagrees.

"If you're going to play in this game, that's what it costs to do," Neal said.

Not only that -- Neal says the trip did pay off. One of the private companies represented in Paris was Tulsa's M&M Manufacturing.

"M&M Manufacturing has been trying to do business for a number of years with Turkish Air International, but they've been striking out," Neal said.

But they hit a home run in Paris, striking a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal with Turkish Air that will bring money and jobs back to Tulsa.

"On top of that, they are farming out some of the work, some of the manufacturing work to another small manufacturer here in Tulsa called Southwest United Industries."

Neal says you have to spend money to make money but offered this caveat.

"It's absolutely imperative that anybody traveling at the expense of taxpayers be extremely prudent," he said.

Tulsa's Chamber says the Department of Commerce is underfunded so it has a small travel budget compared to other states.

The Chamber estimated the states bordering Oklahoma probably spent more to go to the same air show.