International investors and diplomats who engage with Georgia won’t have to learn new faces, but they’ll soon see them in new places as the state reorients its team focused on reaching out to the world.
The shift includes assigning investment project managers that once focused on source markets — like Japan, Germany or Korea — to new roles more focused on sectors like manufacturing, film or innovation.
Long-time protocol chief Abby Turano, who interacted daily with diplomats and inbound officials as the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s deputy commissioner for international relations, in May took on a new role as head of the marketing and communications division.
The protocol team will be folded into her portfolio, bolstered by the addition of chief Nico Wijnberg, who many companies will remember as the state’s previous point man for international investment attraction. He will be supported by Coryn Marsik, who joined the protocol team in 2019.
“That team is really part of the larger marketing team but their functions have not changed,” Ms. Turano said, noting that having someone as experienced as Mr. Wijnberg — a Netherlands native who speaks five languages and previously worked for the Dutch foreign ministry — helped her more easily relinquish the reins of a job she has managed since 2012 in various forms.
“Now they will have a little more support, with a larger team and more expertise to draw from,” she said of moving protocol under marketing and comms. The team will continue to handle courtesy visits by dignitaries, the governor’s foreign travels and relations with the consular corps, she added.
Mr. Wijnberg already knows many of the diplomats posted in Georgia, and he’s part of an association of protocol professionals, so he has a head start. But one never “arrives” when it comes to cultural sensitivities.
“It’s a long-term learning process,” Ms. Turano said. “A lot of it is art.” [Download the state’s protocol guide]
Meanwhile, a key part of Mr. Wijnberg’s old job is being turned over to Brittany Young (formerly Holtzclaw). The former project manager will be tasked with interfacing with the state’s 12 offices overseas on projects related to inbound investment.
As division director, she will report to Scott McMurray, who continues to serve as deputy commissioner for the global commerce division.
Ms. Young, who has worked on projects across various industries (and from multiple overseas origins) said her experience managing projects will help her better understand the needs of companies referred by the foreign offices.
The new structure will also allow for streamlined communication between them and the global commerce team on the ground in Georgia, she said.
Mr. McMurray said that similarly, Mr. Wijnberg’s experience will help him be attuned to prospects that might emerge from interactions with some 70 consulates and honorary consulates in the state.
“Countries that have more investments already in Georgia — those consul generals tend to a lot of times be aware of other companies from their home country that are either looking or looking to expand,” Mr. McMurray said, praising Mr. Wijnberg’s cultural fluency. “A German project is different from an Austrian project — not many people would know that, but Nico knows those nuances.”
During the pandemic, the state has remained busy with inbound inquiries, with Mr. McMurray saying he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the amount the department can do remotely before the stage where companies are “kicking dirt, where you actually get out to the site and visit the community and go and inspect the building.”
The state has been using technologies like drone footage,
Georgia in recent days has announced new investments from China, Belgium and Japan, even as the department has been hard at work putting together an interactive map of manufacturers supplying critical items for the COVID-19 response.
Ms. Young said relationship building has continued via Zoom and other platforms, both with foreign investors and communities seeking to woo them.
“(The pandemic) really emphasizes the importance for both the state and the local communities to have all our ducks in a row, to have accurate information and have it up to date so that when decision time comes, the companies will with confidence be able to pull the trigger out the project,” she said.
In the short term, the department may lean on its overseas offices more for in-person visits to prospects, given the potential challenges of international air travel post-pandemic. The trajectory of foreign investment, which accounts for 20-30 percent of projects each year, remains to be seen. Tourism, which sometimes gives people their first exposure to the state, is expected
While some projects may pull back, others may seek to be closer to the U.S. market to avert tariffs or supply-chain interruptions. Various countries are also coming back online post-coronavirus more quickly than others, Mr. McMurray said.
Once they arrive, in any case, investors will deal with project teams newly organized around industries versus geographies.
Mr. McMurray believes this will strengthen the expertise across the department, rather than detracting from a culturally sensitive approach that puts, say, a Japanese speaker only on Japanese projects.
“We’re very big on cross-training and being able to give folks opportunities to work not only in their areas of expertise, but always wanting folks to sharpen their saws and get outside their comfort zones as well.”
Learn more about the state’s international resources: