A group of ambassadors to the U.S. from some 40 countries will spend three days learning about Atlanta‘s history, culture and economic opportunities this month.
From Oct. 12-15, the envoys and their spouses will visit the city as part of the Experience America tour, which is organized by the State Department‘s Office of the Chief of Protocol.
The diplomatic field trip is being held for the sixth time, the second since President Obama took office. The last tour went to Chicago. Atlanta is the only Southeastern city outside of Florida to have been selected as a host.
It didn’t happen by chance; the ambassadors picked Atlanta out of a list of other contenders as the place they’d like to visit next, said Chris Young, Georgia‘s chief of protocol, who has been helping organize the itinerary.
“They did a survey of the ambassadors in the diplomatic corps in Washington D.C. and the No. 1 city that came back was Atlanta,” he said.
The city has also aggressively marketed itself as a host for the trip because it’s a “golden opportunity” to give a broad look at what Atlanta has to offer in the way of history and economic vitality, Mr. Young said.
The ambassadors will meet with Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue during a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion. They will also sit down with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and rub shoulders with executives from some of metro Atlanta’s major corporations during a breakfast at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
They will explore the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at his tomb and viewing the collection of his papers held at the Morehouse College library.
On the health and education front, they’ll visit the Carter Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology, where they will learn about a joint biomedical engineering program with Emory University.
Mr. Young said the event will bring together the largest concentration of foreign ambassadors that Georgia has seen at one time since the Olympics, but the state is “no stranger” to hosting high-level delegations, he said.
“From the Olympic Games to the G8 summit and the Americas Competitiveness Forum and the SEUS conferences, both for Japan and Canada, there are any number of things that we can tick off where we have had high-level political and commercial dignitaries … come into the state,” he added.
The state has even more experience at the consular level. Georgia is home to consulates, honorary consulates and trade offices from more than 60 countries. Each year the state hosts an International VIP Tour that introduces the consular corps to parts of the state they may have never noticed otherwise.
As with the ambassadors’ upcoming trip, the goal is to build relationships that create spokespeople for Georgia at the highest levels in foreign governments. The benefits of crafting these ties extend beyond metro Atlanta, Mr. Young said.
“When these countries come and when they understand the geography, the culture and the business climate of where they are, when their indigenous businesses get ready to invest … it becomes a lot easier to work with them and suggest communities outside metro Atlanta,” he said.
As the “quintessential American city,” Atlanta is the ideal venue for the Experience America trip, U.S. Chief of Protocol Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall said in a statement.
“By sharing Atlanta’s story with these distinguished diplomats,we are fostering international goodwill, laying the foundation for new and productive international partnerships and strengthening America’s relationship with countries all around the globe,” she said.
Ambassadors frequently come to the Georgia capital, many of them meeting independently with the governor and heads of major companies. Brazil‘s ambassador, Mauro Vieira, has visited Atlanta twice. He came first in May to ask Delta Air Lines Inc. to consider establishing more air service to the country before it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014, then returned in July for a business event at Brazil Fest. He will not attend Experience America, according to Brazilian Consul General Adalnio Senna Ganem.
A State Department list obtained by GlobalAtlanta shows 32 ambassadors planning to attend, mostly from African, Caribbean and Latin American countries. Exceptions include ambassadors from Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Croatia, Kosovo, Monaco, the Philippines and others.
The visit comes almost exactly a month after Mr. Reed announced that he would rebuild the City of Atlanta’s international affairs department, which was wiped out in a round of budget cuts in 2008. In less than a year in office, the mayor has met with 45 foreign delegations, he said in September.
In November, the Americas Competitiveness Forum will be held in Atlanta for the third time, bringing scores of government leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere.