The city of Atlanta is bridging the gap between friendship and business as it prepares to host officials from 13 of its foreign-based Sister Cities for an economic development conference next month.

“International business and trade happens because of relationships, and the Sister City partnership seeks to strengthen those relationships,” said Sebastian Mathews, program director at the local United Nations affiliate CIFAL Atlanta, which is organizing the upcoming Sister Cities development conference.

Mr. Mathews, who is also a member of the Atlanta Sister City Commission’s subcommittee on economic development, said that the Oct. 19-20 conference will help Atlanta elevate its profile as an international player, which is an objective of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s.

“This is a part of her ongoing effort to spur long term economic growth and put Atlanta firmly in the center of regional and global trade,” said Mr. Mathews, who works closely with the mayor’s office under its Sister City Commission.

The city of Atlanta announced last month its renewed efforts to work with public and private officials throughout the state to build the city’s international business ties.

At the upcoming conference, Ms. Franklin will welcome visiting officials, as well as participate in a mayor’s panel that is to be attended by mayors from five of Atlanta’s 18 Sister Cities.

The conference will be held at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which is donating office space and food for the program.

Other local sponsors include law firms Arnall Golden Gregory LLP and Miller & Martin PLLC, Hemisphere Inc., which promotes Atlanta internationally, Southern Co. and Summit Bank Corp. A grant from the city of Atlanta is also helping to fund the effort.

Mr. Mathews, who has been involved with the conference since its conception, said that it was born out of a 2004 meeting between representatives from GlobalAtlanta, Georgia State University and the U.S. Commercial Service who suggested Atlanta leverage its Sister City relationships for economic development purposes.

At Mr. Mathews’ suggestion, CIFAL took on the organization of such a conference in January and began implementing elements of best practice sharing, which is the bailiwick of the U.N. organization.

CIFAL, which last week celebrated two years in Atlanta, organizes best practice-sharing events to train municipal officials in the Western Hemisphere on how to handle problems associated with urban growth.

Instead of working strictly with officials from the Americas, CIFAL will now help representatives from Atlanta’s Sister Cities share their experiences on municipal growth and management.

Participating Sister Cities are Daegu, Korea; Fukuoka, Japan; Lagos, Nigeria; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nuremberg, Germany; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Ra’anana, Israel; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Salcedo, Dominican Republic; Toulouse, France; Tbilisi, Georgia and Taipei, Taiwan.

A national senator from Nigeria, a vice-mayor of Dalian, China, which is a Sister City candidate for Atlanta, a representative from Ningbo, China, another Atlanta Sister City candidate and the mayor of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which has no Sister City ties with Atlanta, are also scheduled to attend, Mr. Mathews said.

Lagos, Montego Bay, Port of Spain, Ra’anana, Salcedo, and Toulouse, are also sending their mayors, according to Mr. Mathews.

Key themes of the conference will include sharing practices in business innovation, educational partnerships, public-private partnerships, urban health and safety, urban growth and renewal, tourism and transportation systems.

CIFAL is collaborating with the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission to organize the conference, but the effort is being headed up by a number of local officials.

They are Jorge Fernandez, vice president of international commerce with the Metro Atlanta Chamber; Alex Mejia, vice president of government relations for Hemisphere; Claire McLeveighn, director of external affairs and international relations for the city of Atlanta; Mr. Mathews; Teri Simmons, chair of the Sister Cities Commission and partner with Arnall Golden Gregory; David Smith, market portfolio manager with global IT supplier SITA; Robin Spratlin, general manager for economic development with the Southern Co.; Cedric Suzman, vice president and director of programming at the Southern Center for International Studies, and Charles Whatley, manager of business development with the Atlanta Development Authority.

For more information or sponsorship opportunities, contact Mr. Mathews at (404) 962-4841.