Editor’s note: This commentary was contributed by Abby Turano, deputy commissioner for international relations and chief of protocol for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Georgia is a welcoming state with a rising international reputation as a lively destination for visitors and students, a producer of high-quality goods, and, most of all, a well-connected location for companies to succeed.
These attributes help draw international businesses, residents and visitors, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development is actively working to grow and sustain a globally connected and competitive Georgia.
As we’ve broadened our lens, it’s become clear that a comprehensive economic development strategy must include global outreach: Engagement enhances prosperity and quality of life for our 10 million residents.
Workforce development, international relations, arts and entertainment are all arrows in our strategic quiver, helping make our state a hospitable place. But we also want to be where our customers are, so we maintain a presence in 11 strategic countries as the first point of contact for potential investors and as a resource for our own Georgia-based exporters.
Helping companies expand internationally improves their health at home. Small businesses that export pay better wages, grow faster, lower their risk and gain exposure to new technology and innovation. To help speed up this process, our Trade team conducts market research and makes introductions that open doors to new buyers and brokers abroad.
Georgia companies can see this work in action when Georgia’s international representatives come to town March 20 for the Go Global Reception at the Atlanta History Center. In addition to recognizing our exporters, the event will include one-on-one meetings where companies can learn about the services these reps offer and opportunities in their respective markets.
Along with trade, traditional investment recruitment and retention is still an important part of our international toolkit. Our small, specialized Investment team helps create hundreds of jobs every year by assisting foreign companies entering the U.S. market. Country-specific project managers or regional experts work to ensure these firms understand Georgia’s opportunities and benefits. We’re also able to point them to applicable incentives that have helped keep Georgia the No. 1 state for business five years running.
This work often includes visiting investors on their own turf. Last October, Gov. Nathan Deal and GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson, along with Invest Atlanta, called on Groupe PSA in Paris. Three months later, we announced that the French auto maker would locate its new North American headquarters in Atlanta, joining automotive powerhouses including Porsche and Mercedes-Benz USA.
The International Relations team is a vital part of that outreach, working both at home and abroad to elevate the state’s international profile. We often travel overseas, coordinating trips that blend the above tactics to promote Georgia as a strategic location. While at home, we maintain relationships with the Georgia Consular Corps and international trade offices located here, and we often welcome foreign delegations. We also empower other state leaders and local communities, helping keep them informed about cultural awareness and protocol practices.
Of course, welcoming the world doesn’t stop at business interactions. International visitors are also an important segment of Georgia’s thriving tourism scene, staying here longer and spending more money than their domestic counterparts. We tailor our pitch to each market’s preference, whether it’s Georgia’s rich civil rights history, an authentic Southern music and food experience or a discount shopping excursion. Our message is that Georgia can accommodate all of this and more, and with Hartsfield-Jackson’s connectivity and Delta’s direct flights, getting here from nearly any worldwide destination couldn’t be easier.
Personal connections are a core part of our international strategy. Even in a time where social media, Slack, FaceTime and Skype keep us hyper-connected, it’s difficult to replicate a face-to-face meeting. Photos and videos don’t give you a feel for a place, and it’s unusual to spark ideas or unravel personal connections over email. A powerful message comes across when we signal that it’s worth our time and investment to travel around the world to meet with you.
Once upon a time, people around the world only knew Georgia for our Coca-Cola and “Gone with the Wind.” We have come well beyond those days, with a strong message of welcome that is elevating Georgia on the international stage. We are investing in our state’s future, and setting ourselves up to continue to see growth and success for years to come.
Abby Turano is the deputy commissioner for international relations and chief of protocol for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.