Taube Ponce, left, receives a gift from Turkish commerce minister Nihat Ergun.

When evaluating a country’s attractiveness, savvy businesspeople know it’s not enough to look at macroeconomic statistics.

But when they’re impressive as Turkey‘s, it’s hard not to stare.

Success in any market is determined by whether products fill a niche, but it may be easier to find one in a place where gross domestic product is growing at 10.5 percent, said Taube Ponce, senior international trade specialist at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“The numbers are important because they speak to the dynamism of the Turkish market, and in this current economic climate on a worldwide basis, particularly in Europe, there aren’t many countries that can compete with Turkey’s GDP growth rate,” Ms. Ponce told GlobalAtlanta.

The department is looking for five companies to join a multi-industry trade mission to the fast-growing country from Jan. 30-Feb. 5. All are welcome, but the best prospects for exports are in the chemicals, machinery, aviation and pulp and paper sectors, Ms. Ponce said.

The five-day trip includes briefings, business meetings arranged by the U.S. Commercial Service with qualified companies, meetings with key officials and participation in the Win World of Industry I show, which brings four industrial fairs under one roof.

Many Georgia exporters with products from chemicals to spun yarn have successful sales operations in Turkey, a nation of 74 million people with a broad industrial base and a young, increasingly prosperous population, Ms. Ponce said.

The country’s trade with Georgia has steadily risen in recent years, despite the recession.

In 2009, Georgia companies exported $396 million in goods to Turkey, making it the state’s 17th largest export destination. Through August 2010, Turkey climbed to No. 13 as Georgia’s exports there stood at $377 million, a 60 percent increase over the same period last year.

The numbers help determine the state’s export promotion strategy, but Ms. Ponce learned about Turkey’s potential first hand during a 10-day trip last May with Atlanta’s Istanbul Center.

“It was a fantastic experience. I was very impressed by the country, the people, the culture and the economy,” she said, noting the presence of construction cranes “all over the place.”

Companies looking at Turkey should join the mission to see their potential competition there and to begin scouting for Turkish business partners, she said.

“The most important reason is that in Turkey, as in many countries, business is based on personal relationships, but the Turkish people have been doing this for thousands of years. They have developed networking as an art,” she said.

Mevlut Tascan, executive director of the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast, said trade missions help American and Turkish businesspeople understand each other better, mitigating the fear that has kept them from working together more.

Turkish businesses were “kind of scared of coming here,” but visiting Atlanta has helped them grow more comfortable. The chamber has hosted Turkish trade missions and business matchmaking programs, including a visit in July from Zafer Caglayan, minister of industry and foreign trade, and leaders of key export associations.

U.S. companies would benefit from traveling to Turkey, he said.

“The USA does not know now good the trade is going to be with Turkey. Turkey is one of the highest developing countries these years and the economy is shining these years. That’s why we need to introduce” the two countries, he added.

Nihat Ergun, Turkey’s minister of commerce and industry, visited Atlanta last week to talk about ways to boost trade with the U.S. He reiterated a theme that Turkish leaders have hammered home in Georgia: U.S.-Turkey trade has been weak in view of the countries’ important political and strategic relationship.

“The U.S. role in the Turkish economy is not what we would like to see. It is very minimal, very small,” Mr. Ergun said.

In 2009, Turkey imported about $7 billion worth of goods from the U.S., nearly twice the value of its exports here.

Georgia companies interested in registering for the mission should contact Ms. Ponce at (404) 962-4118 or tponce@georgia.org.

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...