HOOVER -- Alabama threw a convention for the South's governors at one of the state's premier golf resorts and less than half of the region's governors attended.
But the host of the Southern Governors' Association convention, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, called it "an absolutely outstanding conference" and predicted it will be remembered as the place where Southern states began working together to increase trade with China.
The four-day Southern Governors' Association convention at the Ross Bridge Resort in Hoover wrapped up Monday with Riley handing over the association's chairmanship to North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue.
The association includes the governors of 16 states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Riley and Perdue were among six governors who attended at least part of the convention. Three were present Monday: Riley, Perdue and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
"I don't think I've ever been to one with over eight," Riley said.
Charlotte Cole, the association's communications director, said the number of governors was down a little from normal. She and Riley said some governors were attending observances of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, some were campaigning for office, and some chose not to attend because they are leaving office in a few months.
Nearly 300 people registered for the meeting, which association officials said was about normal. They included high-ranking officials from Southern states, legislators, and lobbyists.
Riley's focus for the meeting was to get Southern governors working together to boost the region's trade with China.
He called it creating a "Southern brand." A session Saturday with Chinese business leaders and government trade officials drew the highest attendance, with six governors present. Perdue said it was so successful that she plans to continue the discussion next year when the association meets in her state.
One of those attending the convention, Pete Ihrig, senior vice president of the information technology firm CGI, said he was impressed by the talk of regional cooperation. "I haven't seen that anywhere else," he said.
"One of these days you will look back and say that was the beginning of a policy for the Southern governors that I believe will take root and flourish over the next few years," Riley said.