Shaking hands more than 9,000 miles away from home, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz tried to bait people into greeting him with "G'day mate." Except they were new acquaintances, not quite yet mates.
But Walz is trying to make friends in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia — specifically business and trade allies — to boost Minnesota's exports to the land Down Under.
"There's a golden opportunity in this," said Walz in a phone interview from Sydney, where he was traveling between meetings with businesses and legislative leaders on the state's first-ever trade mission to the country. "There's a lot of excitement and I think they think this is an untapped frontier for them."
He's been traveling with a contingent of cabinet members and representatives from dozens of state businesses with an eye toward strengthening agreements on medical and clean energy technology, higher education and agriculture.
Here's what you need to know about the latest trade trip, and why he chose Australia as the destination.
Is Australia a big market for Minnesota?
Australia is already a decent-sized market for the state, and leaders see significant potential to expand that relationship. In the second quarter of the year, Australia was ranked the 11th largest market for Minnesota goods, up by 27% from the previous year. In 2022, Australia was the 13th market for goods in the state, with $438 million in exports and $141 million coming from imports.
Australia ranked 19th largest in the Minnesota market for agricultural products last year, one of the areas Minnesota sees potential for growth. There are other benefits to courting Australia, according to the state, which has a low-barrier business culture and shares English as the primary language.
"With strong trade between our countries, a virtually zero-tariff free trade agreement and few societal, legal and language barriers, Australia is a natural, receptive, and important market for Minnesota goods and services," Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Matt Varilek said in a statement.
Who else is on the trip?
In addition to Varilek, Walz is traveling with Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and representatives from the Minnesota Trade Office. They're joined by leaders from Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center, Medical Alley, St. Cloud State University, Delta Air Lines, the University of Minnesota, Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, the Northarvest Bean Growers Association and the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, among others.
The trip has been planned for months, in part because Minnesota-based Medtronic hit the milestone of 50 years running an office in Sydney. The company estimates it's delivered over 40,000 medical devices to patients in Australia and New Zealand and serves more than 2 million people in those countries each year.
The trip also comes on the heels of Minnesota being named one of 31 tech hubs in the U.S. that show potential for growth in sectors like medical technology. The state is pushing its reputation as a hub for med-tech in meetings with Australian leaders and businesses.
Are there other Minnesota business connections in Australia?
According to the state, Medtronic is one of about 40 Minnesota companies operating businesses at over 700 locations in Australia.
What cities is the trade mission hitting?
The group is making stops in the major business and political centers of Sydney and Melbourne. Walz met with legislators and described attending "Shark Tank-like" pitching sessions to sell Minnesota to Australian companies. The governor is pushing the state's angel investor tax program to companies.
"We go to these luncheons and some of these meetings and we make the case of why you want to come to Minnesota," Walz said. "Why it's an affordable place to do business, why we are the best place for biotech, and the best place for agri-business and how we're growing our clean energy economy."
Is it a tough sell?
The governor said there's been a warm reception to the idea of working with Minnesota, in part because of shared values of healthy living and fighting climate change. "They aren't going to invest in states that aren't doing anything to address climate change," he said.
Where else has Walz traveled?
Walz has led trade trips to Japan, South Korea, Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom since taking office in 2019.