Senior Staff from Governors’ Offices Discuss How to Best Engage at the State Level

Nikki Guilford (Office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine), Jim McCleskey (Office of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper), Tiffany Waddell (National Governors Association), Alex Hermann (Office of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy), and Christina Gungoll Lepore (Office of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt), discuss how to best engage at the state level at a Diplocraft program on December 14, 2022. Photo by Kris Tripplaar.

Engaging at the state level is key to the success of diplomats and the private sector alike. On December 14, 2022, Meridian hosted a Diplocraft program in partnership with the National Governors Association featuring Nikki Guilford (Office of the Governor of Ohio Mike DeWine), Alex Hermann (Office of the Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy), Christina Gungoll Lepore (Office of the Governor of Oklahoma Kevin Stitt), and Jim McCleskey (Office of the Governor of North Carolina Roy Cooper) for a conversation moderated by Tiffany Waddell (National Governors Association).

Here are some top takeaways from the program:

  1. DC Offices are Embassies of the States

For the foreign diplomatic corps, the DC office is a good entry point as the office operates as a “mini-embassy” in Washington, DC. The head of the office typically represents the governor, state administration, and delegation to the federal government. The DC office relays information from the federal government back to the states. DC offices also liaise with the federal government to gain perspective on certain issues that may have national security implications, from sanctions to immigration.

  1. Governments Engaging in the International Sphere for Economic Development

A primary aim for international engagement for state governments is economic development—state officials prioritize import, export, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). States often get into bidding for FDI at the national and international level. Some states work with non-profits that increase economic development through relations with the international community. With many issues that cause partisan division, economic development can be a unifier within states.

  1. Who’s in charge, anyway?

Each state has different mechanisms for international engagement, and a unique power structure. Navigating a state administration can be tricky even for those that work in the governor’s office. In some states, it may be the Department of Commerce that handles foreign economic investment, while some may have protocol offices to receive foreign dignitaries. In some states, the legislatures take an active role in welcoming international visitors, while some may be received primarily by the Secretary of State. Another avenue of engagement is through consul generals on a regional level.

  1. Be Ready for Upcoming Trade Mission Trips

The COVID-19 pandemic severely slowed down trade mission trips by governors since 2019. There has been an uptick in trips in 2022 and will be more trips planned for 2023. Some states have international trade offices through gubernatorial-backed non-profits that are the gateway to doing business with states. However, there is a has been a slow downward trend for states to have international trade offices since the 2000s. The landscape in the international sphere of trade and trade missions has changed but governor’s offices realize the importance of these offices and trade missions and are using modern methods to reach their goals.

  1. Gubernatorial level meetings require clear objectives.

Meetings with governors are typically not due to courtesy or protocol. Meeting with a governor directly is typically reserved for an ambassadorial-level meeting. Staff-level meetings are more common at the secretary level and where a lot of work is done. Keep in mind – the time of a governor is limited – so, be prepared with a clear agenda and objectives for the meeting. Governors’ offices enjoy welcoming diplomats to visit their state to see what it has to offer for foreign countries.


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Project summary

Senior Staff from Governors’ Offices Discuss How to Best Engage at the State Level | December 2022
Number of Attendees: 15
Regions: East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Australia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Jordan, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland
Impact Areas: Governance and Transparency, Business and Trade, Civic Engagement, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Diplomatic Corps, Private Sector, Public Sector