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European tour: Parnell pitches Alaska overseas

Trip was part trade promotion, part learning, governor tells Juneau World Affairs Council

Posted: December 13, 2011 - 1:03am
Gov. Sean Parnell speaks about his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East during a  Juneau World Affairs Council event at the Juneau Arts & Cultural Center on Monday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Gov. Sean Parnell speaks about his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East during a Juneau World Affairs Council event at the Juneau Arts & Cultural Center on Monday.

In his first-ever overseas trip in 5 1/2 years in statewide office, Gov. Sean Parnell said he was able to advocate for Alaska’s interests in Europe and elsewhere, as well as learn more about how linked his state was to other parts of the world.

Speaking to the Juneau World Affairs Council on Monday, Parnell said the United Kingdom’s upscale supermarket chain Waitrose buys 250 metric tons of Alaska seafood a year.

“They have a large focus on sustainable, they are sensitized to overfishing,” he said.

Parnell said the wild Alaskan fish come from clean, cold water, and that carefully managing our resources is written into the state’s constitution.

“They can sell that with the UK and European public,” he said.

At the Westminster Kingsway Catering College, which Parnell described as the “Harvard of culinary schools” the director loves Alaskan seafood and taught its preparation to his 14-17 year-old students.

At a dinner there of Alaskan fish and shellfish, it was touted as “sustainable, clean, fresh and great-tasting,” and that view will benefit the state, he said.

“They help us tell the Alaska story when it comes to seafood,” Parnell said.

He also visited Birdseye Igloo, a major maker of breaded seafood.

“They call them fish fingers, we call them fish sticks,” and they’re made with Alaskan pollock, he said.

Parnell said he also visited with BP executives, talking natural gas sales, and even visited the World War II bunker from which Churchill ran the war effort.

At the Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Parnell met with wounded U.S. soldiers from Fort Wainwright.

One solder had lost a limb in combat just days ago.

Parnell said he wanted to let the man know of the American people’s support and thankfulness, but the wounded soldier had a message for Americans as well.

“Tell them to remember that no one made us give of ourselves like this, we do it freely day in and day out,” he told Parnell.

In Italy, the governor and first lady Sandy Parnell met Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who had a network of 200 shelters across the country for those escaping human trafficking.

“In my view Sister Bonetti is a modern-day Mother Teresa,” Parnell said.

After traveling through Europe on what was part trade mission and part fact-finding tour, Parnell said he’s increasingly worried about the European debt crisis.

Talking with the American ambassadors there, Parnell said he shared their concerns about a default on debts there.

If that diminished the value of the euro, the European currency at risk, those countries will be able to buy fewer American products, such as seafood.

“This European debt crisis is not a European debt crisis — it is a potential global contagion,” he said.

Parnell said he’s been reluctant to spend public funds for out-of-state travel, but said he’s also seen trips to Houston bring tens of millions of dollars of oil industry expenditures into the state.

Accompanying Parnell on the trip a month ago was his chief of staff, Mike Nizich.

And the trip also included a visit to Israel, where Parnell said he heard fears about Iran’s nuclear development, diminishing American national influence, and some of the innovative ways that country was dealing with it special challenges.

An Israeli company, Ormat Industries, is exploring for geothermal energy in Alaska, while an electric vehicle maker might have some lessons could be used in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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