The Italian Trade Commission’s Atlanta office was shuttered last year and the responsibility for Georgia brought back to the Miami office where it could be more efficiently operated, the nation’s consul general told Global Atlanta.
But that by no means indicates a lack of interest in Georgia and the five states and numerous Caribbean territories Gloria M. Bellelli serves from Miami.
“We didn’t close our relationship,” she said in an interview during her first official visit to Atlanta this week.
With Italy’s debt-laden economy slowly recovering, companies with high-tech machinery, delectable food items or innovative designs are beginning to explore the U.S. market again.
Some who previously went to Eastern Europe or China now appreciate the ease of setting up an American subsidiary and strong demand for their products and services despite the previous perception that Americans “didn’t need anything,” Ms. Bellelli said.
“At the beginning they were a bit worried, because they were not aware of the opportunities,” she added.
Italy is also seeking to open its doors to foreign investors by reforming labor practices and making it easier to start a company, though some critics say it’s still not easy to navigate the country’s bureaucracy.
“Our system is still a little bit too stiff,” Ms. Bellelli conceded.
Georgia is already home to a critical mass of more than 50 Italian companies, many of them manufacturers, employing more than 1,000 people, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. But besides a trade office focusing on the promotion of trade shows in very narrow industry clusters, there hasn’t been a convening agent to bring them together regularly.
Just after the interview with Global Atlanta at the law offices of Miller & Martin, Ms. Bellelli was slated to introduce representatives of the Italy-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast to local Italian businesspeople. Founded in 1991 in Miami, the organization has been considering opening an Atlanta chapter since 2014, as Global Atlanta reported at the time.
It’s still unclear whether an Atlanta chapter will be launched or a completely new organization would be set up.
Either way, with a new honorary consul in place, it’s the time for Italy to reinvigorate ties with Georgia, Ms. Bellelli said.
She highlighted food processing and packaging as areas of economic synergy between Georgia and Italy. Already, Italian exports to Georgia increased by 45 percent in the last year, she said. She also pointed to efforts to promote Italian design, enhance research partnerships and “reinforce our presence” the study of the Italian language in universities and high schools here. Meetings with Georgia Tech and Emory University are planned for Friday.
Ms. Bellelli will lean heavily on Ryan Kurtz, a Miller & Martin corporate attorney and the newly appointed honorary consul for Italy in Georgia, to keep an ear to the ground for further partnership opportunities.
“He is like our antenna to let us understand better what the needs are,” she said, noting that a meeting Thursday with Chris Carr, Georgia’s economic development commissioner, revealed the state to be sensitive to the needs of Italian firms already invested here.
Italy is still the No. 2 study abroad destination for college students from the U.S. behind the United Kingdom, posting 4.4 percent growth last year, according to the Open Doors report of the Institute of International Education.