Though busy tackling major municipal issues, Kasim Reed hasn’t been stingy with his presence at international events around Atlanta since prevailing in the city’s runoff mayoral election in December.
As mayor-elect, Mr. Reed turned out on a cold, wet December day to welcome Chinamex to its new digs at Atlantic Station. In April he spoke at the airport’s international terminal as its final piece of structural steel was lowered into place. Last week, he signed an agreement with a Bahrain delegation to explore ways Atlanta firms can do business with the island nation in the Persian Gulf.
But Mr. Reed inherited an administration with no staff dedicated to maintaining international relationships. He also gets the criticism of those who say a city with the size and influence of Atlanta should find resources within its more than $550 million budget to ensure that it makes a good impression on the world stage.
GlobalAtlanta talked with Mr. Reed recently by e-mail about his global outlook and how he thinks Atlanta should face the world:
GlobalAtlanta: How important is it, for cultural and business reasons, to engage with other cities around the world?
Mr. Reed: Engaging with other cities around the world is vital for Atlanta’s growth and prosperity. As an international city with the world’s busiest airport in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta has remained the gateway to the South and is considered by many as a gateway to the world. As we move further into the 21st century, we must continue to have a deliberate and thoughtful approach as it relates to international relations, economic development, trade and investment and tourism.
A great deal of foreign investment is concentrated in the Atlanta area, and foreign-based firms employ approximately 100,000 workers in the city. Ultimately, my goal is to stand strongly with the international business community and figure out what we can do to create new jobs and new economic opportunities for our citizens while also creating a unique forum for mutual prosperity that contributes immensely to Atlanta’s rich cultural landscape.
GlobalAtlanta: Why does a city of Atlanta’s size and importance have no dedicated international relations department? Is there any money in the city budget earmarked for international engagement-related expenses?
Mr. Reed: Because of major budget challenges in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the previous administration made the decision to reduce staffing levels in the mayor’s executive offices. As a result of these reductions, the Office of International Affairs and External Relations was completely eliminated in June of fiscal year 2008.
Currently, there have been no funds earmarked in this year’s budget for the department. However, since the final budget will not be approved until June 30, I reserve the right to amend the budget and reallocate resources to reopen the Office of International Affairs and External Relations.
GlobalAtlanta: Do you have immediate plans to hire permanent staff to handle incoming delegations and manage international relationships? Although it’s important to build people-to-people relationships, it seems like maintaining ties will be difficult without consistency in government.
Mr. Reed: Kevin Goreham is a recent graduate of The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs’ graduate program at Georgia Tech. Working in conjunction with [Deputy Chief Operating Officer] Luz Borrero, he has been tasked with handling our immediate needs with regard to incoming delegations and maintaining our current international relationships.
Moving forward, I am wholly interested in having a robust international relations department, capable of implementing a strategy that promotes Atlanta as an attractive and competitive location for international investment and tourism.
GlobalAtlanta: You have been very open to incoming delegations and you have spoken at the airport’s international terminal, for instance, about the importance of Atlanta’s engagement with the world. Where does your global outlook come from?
Mr. Reed: My global outlook has been primarily shaped by my mentor, Ambassador Andrew Young. I’ve known him since I was a college student, and we performed our (board of trustees) service together at Howard University.
During his time as mayor, and subsequently, as an ambassador to the United Nations, I have watched him keenly and have a deep admiration for his work. I have long been inspired by his ability to move throughout the international community and am profoundly grateful for his forward-thinking vision for international relations in the city of Atlanta.
To this day, I continue to seek his advice and counsel when engaging on important issues pertaining to international relations. Additionally, over the years, I have also had the chance to travel abroad, spend time in other countries and meet a number of foreign dignitaries and heads of state.