Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed left Tuesday, Nov. 2, on a five-day trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands, to sell Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's cargo advantages to industry leaders.
Mr. Reed planned to meet with companies, including the cargo unit of Emirates Airlines, during the The International Air Cargo Association's 2010 forum and exposition. He also planned to invite attendees to Atlanta, where the biennial event will be held next in 2012.
"I've made supporting and boosting the promotion of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as an air cargo hub a top priority of my administration, and I think you show what is important by where you spend your time and where you are present," Mr. Reed told GlobalAtlanta in an interview.
Mr. Reed has traveled throughout the U.S. and has hosted about 45 foreign delegations since taking office in January, but the Amsterdam trip is his first representing the city overseas.
The visit comes at a time of uncertainty for the air cargo industry. Last week, bombs shipped from Yemen were intercepted on cargo jets headed to England and Dubai and ultimately bound for the U.S. One of the bombs was found on a flight operated by Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc. The threat has prompted calls to improve cargo screening worldwide.
Mr. Reed's group will get a feel at the conference for how industry leaders plan to address this crucial issue, said Harold Hagans, president of Atlanta Customs Brokers and International Freight Forwarders.
"They should come back with just loads and loads and loads of what's being proposed around the world," Mr. Hagans said.
All cargo on passenger flights originating in the U.S. is screened, as per Transportation Security Administration guidelines, Mr. Hagans said, but European countries are less strict.
TSA has specific security guidelines for all-cargo international flights to the U.S., covering where the cargo is kept and who can access it, as well as how employees are trained to handle it. All cargo deemed "high-risk" is screened.
U.S. officials said Nov. 2 that any new security measures shouldn't stifle trade.
Whatever happens, the industry will be able to conform to the new regulations, said Mr. Hagans.
"You don't have an impossible task. It might be more time-consuming and more detailed, but you just do it. You just adapt," Mr. Hagans said. Hector Romero, vice president of Atlanta Customs Brokers, is attending the Amsterdam forum, along with representatives from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the airport.
For Mr. Reed, air cargo was in the spotlight long before the foiled bombings. Cargo was one of the top items that he discussed with Louis Miller, Hartsfield's new general manager, during his application process.
Mr. Miller said the mayor is a strong ally in the airport's quest to draw more all-cargo carriers to Atlanta, a goal that will be advanced by hosting the conference, he said.
"The very first TIACA conference was held in Atlanta in 1962, and we are excited to host the 50th Anniversary TIACA conference in 2012," Mr. Miller said. "The successful growth of air cargo operations at Hartsfield-Jackson is economically important to not only Atlanta but the entire U.S. Southeast region."
The world's busiest airport by passengers, Hartsfield ranks 11th nationally for freight.
While international cargo volumes have climbed 31 percent during his first 10 months in office, Mr. Reed said it's evident, especially at night, that the airport is not being used to full capacity.
“If you're out at Hartsfield-Jackson airport after 12 a.m., it's a very quiet place,” he said. “It should function 24 hours a day, and that's my goal.”
He added that cargo is a central piece to his "long-term strategy to make the city of Atlanta the logistical hub of the Western Hemisphere."
The motivation? Jobs.
Atlanta never fully regained jobs lost in the bursting of the tech bubble, and the construction industry is still reeling from the financial crisis, Mr. Reed said.
“Those two industries are going to be suffering for quite some time, so we need to be playing in new areas to replace them,” he said.
Air cargo provides a “ripple effect” of jobs spanning the spectrum of blue- and white-collar positions, from workers unloading the cargo, to truck drivers distributing it, to managers who direct these moves, he said.
The mayor last month welcomed an inaugural flight from Korean carrier Asiana Airlines, which now comes to Atlanta four times per week. The flight created 25 jobs and is expected to have an annual economic impact of $24 million.
Mr. Reed says he has studied Atlanta's job loss and "anemic wage growth" in "excruciating detail" and that creating "high-quality, high-growth jobs" is at the top of his agenda. He returns Saturday from Amsterdam but will leave for London about 10 days later, where he will study the use of an economic-development czar focused on recruiting and retaining financial-services companies.
"I want to see that model. I want to study what world-class cities do to be responsive, listen to the business community" and create a welcoming environment for companies, he said.
The city will either create such an office or work with the Atlanta Development Authority to establish one, the mayor said.
"One way or another, there needs to be a working group that focuses on job creation and wage growth, because I believe that this decade is going to be the decade of job recovery, and cities that win will be the cities that focus on making sure their people have a place to work," he said.
Metro Atlanta's unemployment rate stands at 10 percent.
Attracting more foreign companies will be integral to stemming job loss, said Mr. Reed, who said he will make other overseas trips in the future. Mr. Reed plans to visit China during the first quarter of next year.
"I will go wherever I need to go to generate well-paying jobs in the city of Atlanta. I don't think that you can create the jobs of the future by sitting at 55 Trinity Avenue," he said.