Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, in Atlanta Thursday to dedicate a new consulate general, said the diplomatic office will boost his country’s profile here at a time when the tiny island nation needs the U.S. more than ever to overcome its economic slump.

“Eighty percent of our tourism comes from the United States of America,” Mr. Ingraham told GlobalAtlanta following a ribbon cutting at the seven-person consulate at 2970 Clairmont Road in DeKalb County. “When the U.S. sneezes, the Bahamas gets a cold.”

Tourism, top industry in the Bahamas, remains sluggish, Mr. Ingraham said. “Our overnight visitors are down significantly,” he said. “While the number of people who come on cruise ships is up, overall expenditures are down. We have unemployment in double digits. Many of our businesses that depend on tourism are not as profitable.”

While other nations have been cutting consulates worldwide, the Bahamas decided to invest in a new post in Atlanta as a way to counteract the slow economy, the prime minister said.

“Atlanta is a major hub for the Bahamas,” he said. “Delta Air Lines has been serving us in excess of 35 years with daily flights. We see opportunity and potential for trade between the U.S. and the Bahamas.”

Part of the consulate’s mission is also to promote the harbor and shipping facilities in Freeport, Bahamas, the prime minister added.

When it opened a consulate general on June 1, the Bahamas became the 22nd nation to have career diplomats stationed in Atlanta. India and Ireland are also planning to add new consulates general here later this year.

The Bahamas, slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut with a population of about 300,000, is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Nassau, the Bahamian capital, is less than 800 miles from Atlanta.

In addition to Georgia, the Atlanta consulate is responsible for Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The consulate serves Bahamians living in the region, providing passport renewals and other assistance and encouraging them to register with the office. Bahamian officials say registration would help them determine exactly how many Bahamians are living here.

The consulate will also provide visas for travel to the Bahamas. Although U.S. citizens do not need visas to go there, they are required for citizens of other nations living here.

“This office will also focus its attention in a very real and tangible way on business and economic development,” former Bahamian Senator Katherine Smith, the first consul general in Atlanta, said Thursday. “We believe it is absolutely necessary given the current conditions.”

Call the new Bahamian Consulate General at (404) 214-0492.