Though it's a "state of the future," Rio de Janeiro is also a city steeped in history. Its historic waterfront is undergoing a massive renovation project. 

When an Atlanta delegation headed to Brazil this month, leaders elected to visit two states: Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of which are anchored by large cities of the same names. 

According to fDi magazine, Atlanta picked well: Sao Paulo and Rio are Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in the inaugural list of South American States of the Future (registration required), a ranking that evaluates economic potential, human capital, cost effectiveness and other factors. 

Both Brazilian states performed well in economic potential, bolstered by their role in attracting investments for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. 

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial center, accounts for 3 percent of the country’s landmass and 22 percent of its economic activity. The state alone received over 20 percent of foreign-direct investment throughout all of South America over the past five years, according to fDi’s greenfield investment figures. 

Particularly impressive to judges were Sao Paulo’s public-private infrastructure investments, which gave it a top ranking in FDI strategy category. It also placed second in both business friendliness and human capital. 

The city of Sao Paulo also placed second behind New York in the magazine’s rankings of American Cities of the Future last year, a poll where Atlanta placed seventh overall

The state of Rio de Janeiro, anchored by the city that will host the 2016 Olympics and known for its beautiful vistas and sandy beaches, was recognized mainly for another sector that had to do with the coast: oil and gas. 

Rio state accounts for 80 percent of Brazil’s offshore oil production and 40 percent of natural gas, and recently discovered deep-sea deposits promise to boost production even further. 

While visiting the American Chamber of Commerce in Rio, the Atlanta delegation heard an abbreviated pitch from Marcelo Haddad, president of Rio Negocios, the city’s inward investment agency.

He told Global Atlanta that Brazil lags its international competitors overseas in marketing itself and that Rio Negocios is one of few public-private business recruitment agencies that plays a hands-on role in helping foreign investors enter the Brazilian market. 

The agency is planning to take advantage of the influx of traffic from the World Cup by hosting industry-specific conferences on oil, audio/visual and film, technology, infrastructure and health care, Mr. Haddad said. 

He and AmCham Rio Executive Director Rafael Lourenco praised European companies for their persistence in building ties with Brazil, where they said a single trip isn’t enough to forge a meaningful connection. 

They specifically praised U.K. Trade and Investment, the outbound trade promotion arm of the British government, for aggressively helping companies from that country. 

The U.S. Commercial Service is also active in Brazil and helped Atlanta companies set up meetings through its Gold Key service, a paid program that connects firms with vetted partners. 

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Brazil visiting Atlanta before the trip urged the city to focus on attracting Brazilian tourists, who wield considerable spending power, and forging educational and cultural exchanges. 

They also said that city- or county-level ties are the way that the bilateral U.S.-Brazil relationship will best move forward in the future, urging Atlanta leaders to get beyond Rio and Sao Paulo, where international competition is most fierce. 

Indeed, five other Brazilian states cracked fDi magazine’s top 25 South American states of the future: Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Parana, Santa Catarina and Bahia. 

Fulton County has a three-year partnership with Bahia, while Georgia has a sister-state arrangement with Pernambuco. Atlanta has been a sister city of Rio de Janeiro since 1974, though Mr. Reed was clear that the partnership hadn’t reached its full potential. 

The real winner in the fDi rankings, though, was Chile. Though it only has 16 million people, it was home to 12 out of the top 25 states. Georgia has a trade and investment office in Santiago, the nation’s capital, which anchors the second-ranked state of the future. 

For the full rankings, click here

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...