Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, daughter of former Belgian King Albert II and sister of the current king, Philippe, will headline a weeklong economic mission to the United States in October that will kick off in Atlanta, bringing at least 169 companies and 369 delegates to the city.  

The mission is set to be the first undertaken by the Belgium’s foreign trade agency since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down global travel in early 2020.  

Other high-level officials set to join are Sophie Wilmès, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs & Foreign Trade; Jan Jambon, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders, Willy Borsus, Vice-President of the Walloon Government; and Pascal Smet, State Secretary of the Brussels-Capital Region.

While the U.S. retains a travel ban on those who have been in Europe’s Schengen area within 14 days, the Belgian government has been assured that members of the delegation will be able to travel here even if the measure remains in place.  

Customarily, two large trade missions are planned each year, with Her Royal Highness helping open doors for Belgian firms investing abroad. The last mission to China drew record attendance of more than 300 companies and 600-plus delegates; the U.S. was last visited in 2016 with a focus on Texas alone.  

Atlanta may not always be first on the list for Belgian investors eyeing U.S. expansions, but Georgia for decades has maintained a strong client list in flooring, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, logistics and other sectors, with momentum holding steady in recent years even as Korea and other countries have grown their share of investments in the state.  

Belgian diplomats including former Consul General William De Baets and his successor, current Consul General Michel Gerebtzoff, have pushed for more attention to be paid to the Southeast U.S., an effort that seems to have paid off.  

Eline Goovaerts, a consul in Atlanta, said more and more Belgian firms are flocking to the South thanks to the region’s business-friendly environment and logistical connections, among other draws.  

“Belgium has many champions in booming sectors such as micro-electronics, batteries, hydrogen, advanced logistics, energy efficiency, life sciences and new materials. More than 100 Belgian companies, many of them specialized in these areas, are already present in the Southeast, especially Georgia, which is home to large players like Solvay, UCB and OMP,” Ms. Goovaerts told Global Atlanta. “This trade mission will afford us a chance to highlight the Belgian companies thriving here, allow companies to explore opportunities to forge alliances with local partners, showcase all of the region’s assets to Belgian companies looking to invest and expand to join the ranks of those who have already found a home here.”

While many traditional Georgia success stories will be shared during a breakfast with Princess Astrid on the final day of the Oct. 3-5 stop, it’s the more recent local investments highlighting to Belgium’s innovation edge that will take center stage in Atlanta.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, Princess Astrid will inaugurate a new development laboratory and 3D printing process at chemicals giant Solvay’s U.S. headquarters and research center in Alpharetta. She’ll be welcomed there by Ilham Kadri, the company’s global chief executive, who will showcase the company’s work in EV batteries, hydrogen and composite materials. Ministers of each Belgian region — Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels region — will offer speeches, and the event will be followed by a meeting and talk with acclaimed Atlanta entrepreneur Paul Judge 

The next day, the delegation will visit pharmaceutical giant UCB, which recently expanded its Smyrna headquarters. The princess will honor a patient advocate after being welcomed by UCB CEO Jean-Christophe Tellier. A business forum to follow will focus on the company’s newest medicines, digital transformation and community engagement.  

Later on the morning of Oct. 4, the program is to shine a light on two strong Atlanta sectors: logistics and diversity. The schedule calls for a forum on supply-chain optimization in light of the need to build resiliency post-pandemic, with a particular focus on the life sciences segment. That will be followed by a forum at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights on “The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion.” Featured there will be Ms. Kadri of Solvay, Lori George Billingsley, Coca-Cola Co.’s global chief diversity and inclusion officer and Pieter Timmermans, CEO of the Federation of Enterprises of Belgium 

The latter half of the day will focus on innovation and technology with a forum on EU-U.S. partnerships in artificial intelligence at Georgia Tech and discussions on media and entertainment, especially the gaming sector. Princess Astrid will open an e-sports tournament at Georgia State University’s Creative Media Industries Institute 

All throughout the trip, AWEX, Flanders International Trade and hub.brussels, the investment agencies for each of the three regions, will be setting up business-to-business meetings. Most of the itinerary will be closed to the public, though relevant companies and agencies will be invited to interact.  

After Atlanta, the delegation will visit Boston, then New York City. 

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...