JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — When Gov. Mike Parson departs Missouri for a 10-day trade mission to Israel and Greece next week, he'll be traveling with his wife, a top aide and his spouse, a four-person security detail and at least a dozen others.

Parson confirmed the trip Tuesday after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had previously reported officials were eyeing the dates as a replacement trip for one canceled last year because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Left off the schedule this time around were visits to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Joining the Republican governor and first lady Teresa Parson on the venture will be Parson chief of staff Aaron Willard, as well as his wife, Becky, who was hired as executive director of the Hawthorn Foundation in March.

The foundation, which receives much of its funding from the state, is a nonprofit that organizes overseas trade missions for the governor's office.

Emails obtained by the Post-Dispatch show Becky Willard, a former fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, was hired by the foundation after Parson and Aaron Willard signaled they wanted to have a direct say in who got the job.

A Parson spokeswoman later said the foundation made the pick.

In his role as chief of staff, Willard also has supervisory oversight of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, which serves as a pass-through agency for the $3 million that was earmarked for the foundation this year.

Budget documents show the department is seeking an additional $1 million for Hawthorn in the fiscal year beginning next July.

Others set to make the trip include Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, and House Majority Leader Dean Plocher, a Des Peres Republican who is in line to become the next speaker of the Missouri House.

Agency officials heading to Israel and Greece include Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn and Maggie Kost, acting director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Also on board for the trip are Donn Rubin, president and CEO of BioSTL, Guy Blase, president and CEO of EWR Radar Systems of Kirkwood and John Clark, president of Masterlock Inc. of St. Charles.

In planning the trip earlier this year, officials said weather conditions may be less than ideal, with lows in the 40s and rainy.

Parson said the goal of the trip is to strengthen relationships, thank current partners and promote Missouri as a good business location.

The governor said Israel and Greece are key trade partners for Missouri, with nearly $54 million and more than $12 million in exports in 2020, respectively.

Among the goods exported to Israel, cars and trucks were among those in highest demand. Chemicals and machinery ranked highly among exports to Greece.

Parson will be a keynote speaker at the Greek Economic Summit and take part in a business roundtable discussion hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce to engage with Greek CEOs in the northern region of Thessaloniki.

"Countries around the world already purchase billions of dollars in Missouri-made products each year," Parson said in a statement. "We're thrilled to again represent our state to international officials and companies while promoting Missouri as an ideal business location."

Parson previously visited Australia, France, Germany and Switzerland for trade missions.


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