What can Pennsylvanians expect from their governor's European travels?
"The purpose of the trade mission is very simple," Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said. "It's jobs for Pennsylvanians."
Though the governor will take his wife, this is not a taxpayer-funded junket. A nonprofit group that promotes public-private partnerships is picking up the tab.
In these difficult financial times, with lawmakers and advocates in the Capitol fighting over legislative priorities and proposed steep budget cuts, some Democrats ask whether the Republican governor's trip seems out of touch and unnecessary.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) said: "I understand that we live in a world economy, and I certainly hope something good comes of this in terms of jobs."
But Dermody said Corbett's policies - particularly his actual and proposed cuts to higher education and public schools over the last 14 months - had led to job losses. He said the governor should focus more on preparing workers back home.
The state delegation is small compared to those of former Gov. Ridge: Aside from Corbett, the entourage is to include his wife, Susan; two aides from the Governor's Office; three state police officers from his security detail; Secretary C. Alan Walker of the Department of Community and Economic Development and his wife; and two top-level officials from that agency's Office of International Business Development.
The average cost for state government officials: $4,000 per person, said Ryan Unger of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, the nonprofit footing the bill. Department of Community and Economic Development grants supply some of the funding for Team Pennsylvania's public-private partnerships around the state; Corbett is co-chairman of the foundation's board.
Also along for the ride to France and Germany will be representatives of various Pennsylvania interests, ranging from the chemical industry and wireless software makers to tourism groups and colleges. To participate, they must pay between $3,000 and $5,000 to Team Pennsylvania, a fee that Unger said would cover some meals and incidentals but not airfare or hotel stays. Team Pennsylvania helps by setting up the itinerary of appointments and meetings.
Bob Schena, chairman and chief executive officer of Rajant Corp. in Malvern, who will go on the trip, said that such missions were generally good for networking, dealmaking, and raising companies' profiles - but that Corbett's presence would make this one especially valuable.
"It opens doors," said Schena, whose company makes wireless communications equipment for the U.S. military and the oil and gas and mining industries. "We send people around the world all the time, but when you are part of this type of official mission, with the governor leading it, the success rate is much higher."
Overseas trade missions were popular with governors across the nation in the 1990s, when the economy was booming. Ridge, a big proponent of such travel, went to Canada, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Asia, and South America. His successor, Gov. Mark Schweiker, went to Australia and Japan.
Taxpayers paid for those trips.
Schweiker's successor, Ed Rendell, was less enthusiastic - perhaps in part because of a report issued just after he took office in 2003. The scathing findings found that the Department of Community and Economic Development had grossly overstated export sales and jobs generated under Ridge and Schweiker.
Rendell did visit Spain in 2007, hoping to lure more businesses to Pennsylvania, as he had with Spanish wind-energy giant Gamesa Corp. Department of Community and Economic Development officials went abroad, as well. Generally, however, Rendell "just didn't believe there was enough return on the investment of both time and money for him to go personally," said his former spokesman, Chuck Ardo.
Officials in Corbett's administration would dispute that view. Last year, Pennsylvania hit a record high $41 billion in exports, said Wilfred Muskens, Department of Community and Economic Development deputy secretary for international business development.
Of that $41 billion, $2.5 billion was in exports to France and Germany, said Muskens, who will join the governor's entourage. He said expanded business overseas translated into more jobs at home and more tax revenue for the state.
Pennsylvania's top exports: chemical products, machinery, and primary metals. Computer and petroleum and coal products, as well as plastics, rank high on the list of goods destined for France and Germany.
Corbett's itinerary includes speeches, meetings, seminars, and business dinners. Once he returns, success will be gauged by how much new investment was generated, as well as by the number of new jobs, Harley said.
"We are very optimistic we will be making several announcements when we are there," Team Pennsylvania's Unger said.
After Europe? There is talk of a mission to Asia.
Tim Potts, founder of the Harrisburg watchdog group Democracy Rising PA, said that if the governor believes such missions serve the public well, he should ask the public to pay for them.
Potts said that Corbett was "already in debt to too many private interests" and that a privately funded trip would only fan the flames of criticism that he is beholden to such interests.
But G. Terry Madonna, the veteran political analyst and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College, said Corbett's use of nongovernment funding would help inoculate him.
"If he's not using state dollars, and he's promoting the economy, what is the criticism about that?" Madonna asked. "I don't think people will see it as a problem."
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @AngelasInk on Twitter.