Even before officially taking up his posting, Dutch Consul General Ard Van der Vorst has taken to riding a Lime electric scooter around the streets of Midtown Atlanta.
It’s a way to explore new territory while still making it on time to meetings, he told Global Atlanta in an interview Wednesday after the Dutch government announced that the Atlanta consulate would open Jan. 7 with him at the helm.
Staying close the ground will be key for a diplomat who is pioneering an outpost in a city that has lacked a consulate despite having strong Dutch business connections for decades. Top of mind for Mr. Van der Vorst will be listening before crafting a strategy he said, drawing on lessons learned in his last post as head of communications for the foreign ministry.
“For sure, you will find me wandering around and meeting people,” he said in a phone conversation a day after attending the Netherlands-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast’s breakfast meeting on urban mobility in Buckhead sponsored by Dutch firm Arcadis.
Atlanta, he has already been told, is a “networking town,” a place where rubbing shoulders is an intentional activity. Indeed, the city has been criticized for a car culture that keeps people isolated, both via the mode of travel and by the overarching challenge of traffic. Amsterdam, meanwhile, is known as a cycling town, and the Netherlands is renowned for its ports, airports, canals and other infrastructure. That’s what helps the country punch above its weight in the global economy.
“The Netherlands in size may not be so big but it is a key global trading partner due to the way that it has organized its infrastructure,” Mr. Van der Vorst said.
Herein, he sees an opportunity for synergy, with both Atlanta and Amsterdam playing a role as aviation hubs and drawing in major corporate headquarters because of it, and with both the Southeast U.S. and the Netherlands serving as dynamic gateways to huge markets.
He also sees the need for greater institutional collaboration among the three legs of the stool needed to support economic development: business, government and education. Already, he has discovered Georgia Tech as an “epicenter” in its own right, and he looks forward to visiting the Research Triangle in North Carolina, which will also be within his territory.
“Tech stands not by itself. It’s the result of a convergence between academics, the private sector and the government,” he said.
Having spent three years in San Francisco in a previous U.S. posting, Mr. Van der Vorst saw Bay Area collaboration take shape, and he sees hints of the same thing repeating today in Atlanta, an emerging region in financial technology, cybersecurity, mobility and other niche sectors. The Netherlands itself can learn from the way the city and state of Georgia are creating an “enabling environment” for these industries, and Dutch investors can find markets by providing solutions, he said.
That two-way-street approach is becoming rarer in an era of zero-sum trade policy, but the consul general is not concerned about transatlantic tensions derailing hundreds of years of U.S.-Netherlands trade ties.
Both sides understand each other and share both a directness about what they want and a commitment to mutual prosperity, he said, noting that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s visit with President Donald Trump centered on “business and how we increase it.”
“It’s a partnership that works, and that is quite an important basic understanding, that it is not about what is happening around us, but we focus on each other,” the consul general said.
His government even has a goal of growing jobs supported by Dutch investment and trade from 825,000 to 1 million, he said. Nearly 29,000 of those are in Georgia.
The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, which helps U.S. companies invest in the country, is set to co-locate with the consulate, whose economic section will help Dutch companies eye opportunities in the South. In this way, “#TeamHolland” will have a panoramic view of the local Dutch business scene.
“We are not a big team, so we learn from each other’s experiences, we share our information and we share our lessons learned,” Mr. Van der Vorst said. “You need both entities in one team because business is about what’s in it for you, and what’s in it for me.”
Mr. Van der Vorst comes to Atlanta with his husband Pieter and his Rhodesian ridgeback dog, Max. He looks forward to experiencing the city’s famed Southern Hospitality.