<p>Mayor Reed meets with Zhang Bilai, president of the Hangzhou Chamber of Commerce, during his visit to China in 2012.&nbsp;</p>

Photo by Noah Downer

Mayor Reed meets with Zhang Bilai, president of the Hangzhou Chamber of Commerce, during his visit to China in 2012. 

<p>Mayor Kasim Reed says he had no problem meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in January. He attributes this to Africans' "unique feeling" about Atlanta based on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.&nbsp;</p>

With the city’s fiscal house in order and its international affairs department fully staffed, Mayor Kasim Reed sees his second term as the time for a concerted effort to assert Atlanta’s presence on the global stage. 

“We’ve got to go big. The bottom line is that we’re going to go at this in a patient, sustained fashion over four years,” he told Global Atlanta in a wide-ranging interview in mid-March on the city’s international engagement. "This is not a fad. It’s something that I enjoy, it’s something that I believe in, and it’s something that is central to my strategy.”

That strategy involves solidifying the city’s “unchallenged” position as the economic and cultural hub of the South to ensure that it continues to benefit from demographic shifts in the U.S. 

Too often, though, the city has failed to appreciate its own gravitas, and that has affected outside perceptions. During a recent trip to Silicon Valley, the mayor said many investors said, "We don’t believe that people in Atlanta dream big enough.” 

"A part of Atlanta's problem is not having a respect for our own work, and if you don’t respect what you’ve created - ‘you' meaning generations of individuals who made some pretty smart decisions - nobody else is (going to),” Mr. Reed said during the interview at City Hall.

"If you don’t engage in the (African) continent, you're really giving up a layup," said Mr. Reed, who will travel to the continent in the fall.

Having the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and the world’s busiest airport are not “throwaway statements,” he said. Nor are rankings that show Atlanta among the upper echelons of global cities for attracting foreign investment in real estate and other sectors. 

To the mayor, who traveled to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to speak on city issues and represented the U.S. Conference of Mayors on infrastructure in Washington in January, it’s just a matter of matching local perception with empirical reality. 

Welcoming the World

Beyond its practical advantages, Atlanta’s “real secret ingredient” is its inclusiveness, which the mayor said is both embodied in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and illustrated in his own administration’s receptive approach to immigrants and foreign visitors.

Mr. Reed has hosted more than 100 foreign delegations during his time in office, including a group from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, who attributed their comfort in the city to the spirit of the civil rights movement. 

“The most important point that they made to me is that when they were in Atlanta people didn’t stare at them,” despite their Middle Eastern dress, Mr. Reed said. 

He added that Africans also have a “unique feeling” of Atlanta thanks to their perception of Dr. King. As an illustration, he said he had no problem setting up a meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. 

Already home to the second fastest growing foreign-born population of U.S. metro areas, Atlanta last October joined the Welcoming America initiative, which asks member cities and counties to take concrete steps toward better integrating immigrant communities. 

That effort will be reinforced by the opening of the the National Center for Civil and Human Rights at Centennial Park in May. 

Though hospitality isn’t new to Atlanta, the mayor said his administration has had to become a “counterweight” to a steady stream of “anti-immigrant” bills in the Georgia General Assembly that have spooked some investors and convention organizers over the last few years, Mr. Reed said. 

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