Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pledged Wednesday to rebuild the city’s international affairs department, which was wiped out in 2008 in a round of budget cuts, and he also vowed to strengthen the Sister Cities program.
Mr. Reed wants to have a three- to seven-member international affairs department in place by early next year, he told a World Trade Center Atlanta luncheon audience.
That would be larger than the two-person department that met its demise amid budget cuts during the final year of Mayor Shirley Franklin‘s administration.
The new office will be funded by cuts in other areas of the city budget, said Mr. Reed.
“I am here today to tell you we’re going to cut something else,” the mayor said, promising “an international affairs office in the city of Atlanta that is worthy of you and worthy of this city. Symbols matter. Signals matter.”
Mr. Reed said the city is working with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and with Craig Lesser, former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, to design the new office.
“My goal is to get it done by the end of the first quarter in 2011,” said the mayor. “I want it functioning a full year before the international terminal [at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] opens in the spring of 2012.”
The mayor’s emphatic support for a new international department is encouraging, said Mr. Lesser.
“It’s really exciting for Atlanta to see the kind of passion he brings to it,” Mr. Lesser said..
On Atlanta’s Sister City program, the mayor said his vision is to “strengthen it and pay attention to it.”
Budget constraints have made it hard to maximize the program’s potential, he said. Atlanta has 18 sister cities.
One of those is Nuremberg, Germany, where Margaret Jankowsky, who leads an independent organization that promotes cooperation with Atlanta, told GlobalAtlanta earlier this year that the city of Atlanta has done little to help lately.
“We have no contact with any of those people, none,” Ms. Jankowsky said in May of Mr. Reed’s administration.
But that will change, Mr. Reed said Wednesday.
“By making investments in the international space, we are going to re-engage with the world,” said the mayor. “Our sister-city relationships are part of that.”
There will be visits by Atlantans to sister cities, he said, and more substantive activities for visitors here. “We will make sure that when we have folks coming in from our sister cities to Atlanta, that we will do more than meet with them in my office,” he said.
The visits need to be a “relationship-building experience that is consistent with the city’s economic interest,” he added.
The mayor plans to start making at least one trip per quarter abroad to promote Atlanta, starting with a trip to Amsterdam for The International Air Cargo Association conference Nov. 2-4. Atlanta will host the conference in 2012.
“Night before last, I was at the airport at midnight to welcome Asiana Airlines which is our 14th international cargo carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport,” said the mayor.
Asiana, based in Seoul, South Korea, will have four weekly cargo flights to Atlanta, creating 25 jobs and having an estimated $24 million economic impact on Atlanta and the Southeast, the city said.
In the first seven months of 2010, international air cargo has increased by 35 percent over the same period the year before, according to the city.
Mr. Reed on Wednesday called Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, his “political mentor.” Mr. Young is a current member and former chair of the World Trade Center Atlanta board of directors.
“I’ve been here many, many times,” Mr. Reed told the luncheon audience. “I would sit over in that corner on a number of occasions when summoned by Ambassador Andrew Young and he continues to summon me regularly. I’m glad to be part of this club.”