It’s one thing to report on the world from your backyard; it’s another to hop the fence and see whether what you’ve been saying from a distance is true up close.
Thanks to our partners at Delta Air Lines Inc., we were able to once again marry the ear with the eyes, reconciling what we’ve heard locally to what we can see on the ground in key markets. As much as we try, some stories just couldn’t be done from our offices on Auburn Avenue.
Our partnership with Delta focused on Latin America. For many reasons, the region has grown more important for an airline that is also pushing heavily into Europe and Asia. It’s not because the neighborhood has been a beacon of economic hope. A commodities bust and currency declines have left some Latin American economies reeling. And elections in the U.S. have created a wave of uncertainty from Mexico to Cuba.
But Brazil is an example of how opportunities can be found amid even the gloomiest of economic and political crises, at least in Delta’s eyes. Only a tenth of Brazilians fly now, so there’s room to grow that number even as the economy retracts. And Delta’s partnership with Brazilian airline GOL is funneling traffic to profitable international routes.
Just recently, Delta recently received anti-trust approval for a massive joint venture with Aeromexico that will significantly expand its footprint in America’s neighbor to the south, using a tried and true partnership model it has employed around the world.
We didn’t go to Brazil this year, but our quest to provide the most informative view on global events and how they affect Atlanta took us to Latin America in 2016 — and even to one place in the Middle East.
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We couldn’t have picked a better time than February 2016 to visit Argentina. We arrived in Buenos Aires to find a business community awash in optimism, fresh off one of the biggest shifts to its electoral map in recent history. For the first time, neither Peronists nor Radicals were in power, having given way to the new Cambiemos (Let’s change!) coalition led by businessman-turned-politician Mauricio Macri.
The new business-savvy president, a former owner of the popular Boca Juniors soccer team, brought with him confidence that a country ruled by leftists for the past decade would finally reform itself into the economic power it knew it could be, forgoing the financial crises, capital controls, fiscal mismanagement and antagonism toward the U.S. that had been the hallmarks of recent history.
Our first meeting was with a U.S. Embassy commercial officer who quickly found out that Argentina would not be the low-profile post he was expecting. Mr. Macri’s election and his overtures to the world had captured the attention of American investors, who were already clamoring for meetings just a month after the results came in.
The embassy was also preparing for a presidential visit: After making history by traveling to Cuba, President Barack Obama would swing down to Argentina to affirm a new direction in relations between the two countries.
After attending the World Economic Forum, Mr. Macri had immediately begun hosting visits by foreign leaders. During our visit, President Francois Hollande of France had arrived, building on a wave of bonhomie that had welcomed Mr. Macri’s outward-facing stance.
Visits and interviews at the local law firm of Wiener Soto Caparros, the Buenos Aires offices of Atlanta-based Equifax Inc. andat the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, all confirmed that at least from a business standpoint, the mood had never been better.
We also learned about Huenei, the Argentine IT outsourcing firm, and how the software association of Argentina was helping its companies tap into markets like Atlanta. We looked at how BitPay, an Atlanta-based firm that helps merchants process payments in the bitcoin cryptocurrency, was helping companies and individuals deal with volatility in currency markets.
And, of course, we found time to watch some soccer, investigating how the Atlanta football club in the Villacrespo neighborhood had gotten its name. (Hint: It’s probably from an American ship that called on the port in the early 20th century.)
For Mr. Macri, the first year was rocky as expected but marked with big achievements. He negotiated a settlement with the so-called “holdouts,” long-suffering bondholders who were stiffed during the 2001 financial crisis and had been labeled “vultures” by the previous Kirchner administration.
He also floated the peso on global markets and eliminated export controls on most products and restrictions on the movement of currency in a bid to restore business confidence.
In the meantime, inflation, always a challenge, increased and stood at 40 percent by the year’s end. Citizens felt the pain as their purchasing power dropped, causing some to question the viability of the long-term economic platform if voters have to wait too long for the promised growth to materialize.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, Argentina has been “back.” With the help of the new consul general, the country’s local chamber of commerce relaunched and held its first food, wine and culture festival at Piedmont Park in October, an event it hopes will blossom into an annual fete.
On Jan. 11, Argentine Ambassador Martin Lousteau began a two-day trip to Atlanta, where he was slated to speak at multiple events on developments in the country.
His message: Argentina still has challenges, but Mr. Macri’s approval ratings show that voters’ anger isn’t yet standing in the way of their desire to give him a chance.
While in Argentina, we boarded a ferry to cross the Rio de la Plata on a one-day journey that proved the value of personal connections in the digital age.
We arrived in the blinding sunlight of Montevideo, Uruguay, to the smiling face of Valentina Quagliotti, a journalist and documentary producer who had spent time working at the Global Atlanta offices on an exchange program that originated when she approached our publisher via an online lecture. She became our energetic tour guide.
First, we visited her office in Sinergia, a co-working space where we got a glimpse of the local startup community. A group from Remote Year, one of many firms offering work experiences internationally for employees that work outside traditional office environments, had set up shop there and was engaging with local companies.
We then interviewed a representative of Georgia-based forestry management company F&W before touring the city, ending the day by sharing a Coca-Cola at Ms. Quagliotti’s home.
Ms. Quagliotti’s firm, ikusi, creates video documentaries to help nonprofits tell the stories of their work and impact. Her entrepreneurial journey has been aided by a Fulbright program, as well as an executive education stint at Columbia University, all made possible by a pilot who donated miles to help her fly to the U.S. Now, she’s both a catalyst and a beneficiary of the startup scene in Uruguay. Look for more on her soon in Global Atlanta.
A Toyota Land Cruiser fetched me at the Tegucigalpa airport after the three-hour Delta flight to the Honduran capital. Spartan, yes, but appropriately outfitted for the bumpy, five-hour ride to El Paraiso ranch, a rural outpost in the Central American nation’s northeastern Olancho province.
One of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, Honduras is rarely associated with opportunity. In fact, it’s more of a problem child, a waypoint for drugs en route from South America and probably known best in the U.S. for the way the associated violence has displaced its people, sending immigrants northward.
But my trip revealed a more promising view of a nation in transition, even from those working in its toughest areas.
This view is nothing new for Honduras Outreach Inc., a metro Atlanta-based nonprofit. After a chance visit 30 years ago, its founders have been progressively working to better the Olancho region, building schools, operating a health clinic and training local entrepreneurs.
Its innovation was to match American missions groups wanting to serve with a context that would ensure their efforts aren’t just one-shot, feel-good programs. As a result, it has received recognition from the highest levels of government. President Juan Orlando Hernandez visited Atlanta to pay homage to the group during a 25th anniversary dinner in 2014. Read more about the organization and its ongoing expansion in a forthcoming Global Atlanta story.
Back in the capital, I supped with a fellow writer and his family before busing my way to San Pedro Sula, the manufacturing heartland of the country. The heat was oppressive as my friend had warned me, even in the spring, which gave me all the more sympathy for workers who toiled away making bags for dog food in one factory I visited. Quickly, however, I saw the dignity in their work. Many had been there for six or more years, grateful for the chance to provide for their families in a region where many had succumbed to the drug trade.
The next factory was a step up. TRC, bought by Southwire a few years ago, makes generators for RVs and other electrical products. It’s managed by Lebanese-born executive Hamze Moussa, who has spent more than 20 years in and out of a country he knew well through firsthand travel. It had certainly gotten into his blood, and he had created a family atmosphere inside the factory.
Those interviews, plus chats with a coffee executive, a hotel proprietor, workers at a brewery and guest house and the manager of a local orphanage, gave me hope that a country and a city (San Pedro Sula) known for violence could become beacons of optimism, a testament to the power of time and effort to change the fortunes of a place. Whether that destiny is realized remains to be seen.
Qatar Airways, a new entrant at the world’s busiest airport, began its nonstop flight from Doha in June with a promise of deeper connectivity through the Middle Eastern hub.
The Atlanta route was more contentious than is customary. Delta and Qatar were locked in a headline-grabbing battle over international competition — the latter alleging that Qatar was one of three Persian Gulf carriers getting unfair subsidies from their government and using them to undercut the international competition. Qatar and its outspoken CEO, Akbar Al Baker, had shot back that Delta was simply making excuses for its “inferior” product.
The row reached its local boiling point when Qatar rented out the Fox Theatre for a launch party featuring a performance by Jennifer Lopez. Delta had warned the venue, whose cultural programming it had long sponsored, not to engage Qatar, which Delta alleges is part of a corporate culture detrimental to workers’ and women’s rights. The Fox said its rentals were separate from its own programming and actually help support it. Delta dropped its sponsorship of the Fox anyway.
My trip was a familiarization sponsored by Qatar Airways, which brought journalists and bloggers on the launch of the nonstop flight from Atlanta. It was served just for the inaugural by the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, which added to the intrigue: The plane arrived without a clear gate at Hartsfield-Jackson, which has limited space for the double-decker jet. Passengers had to be bused across the tarmac to the plane. Some accused Delta of somehow organizing the snafu; it said schedules were worked out weeks in advance. See our story here.
When the dust settled, Atlanta emerged with a new air link providing one-stop access oto much of the Indian subcontinent, Africa and many other areas much harder to reach on Delta and existing carriers. Stay tuned for more on the Doha airport, what to do in Qatar and how the airline’s Atlanta expansion has fared.
In September, we couldn’t resist a trip down to Mexico, our first as a publication.
The international stage couldn’t have been set more appropriately: We traveled after the awkward September visit of presidential candidate Donald Trump — who had made his candidacy bashing trade in general and NAFTA in particular — and before the November election few thought he would win.
Our main areas of focus were automotive and aerospace, sectors where Georgia thrives but where Mexico is also growing more competitive. We visited Mexico City, as well as the states of Guanajuato and Queretaro, whose names are coming up more frequently in global conversations on these industries.
The question we were chasing was a regional equivalent of the one behind Mr. Trump’s desire to reframe the relationship: how much does Mexico’s benefit equal Georgia’s loss? Or does hemispheric cooperation make us rise together in a global economy? In essence, is the core of the relationship between the South’s advanced manufacturing cluster and Mexico’s competitive or collaborative?
The Mexican answers were frank but expected: We are a partner, not a foe for the U.S., helping American companies operate in a global environment with a better cost base and greater flexibility.
In the wake of Trump’s election and promises to rejigger North American supply chains by sheer force of executive will, the debate has taken on a new importance. We’ll continue trying to answer it throughout the year.
Global Atlanta traveled to Costa Rica in 2016 from the Guanacaste Pacific coast to the highest reach of the Monteverde Cloud Forest and then on to the America Free Trade Zone Park on the outskirts of the capital, San Jose.
The visit exposed the extraordinary natural beauty and variety of the country’s flora and fauna as well as the vibrancy of its growing multinational company outposts in industrial parks and free trade zones.
Through interviews with government officials, even including a chance meeting with President Luis Guillermo Solis, it was clear that the country seeks to be the commercial center of Central America.
American tourists, including many Atlantans, flock to experience the country’s beauty and be rejuvenated by its natural splendors.
Atlanta developer and entrepreneur Charles Brewer’s Las Catalinas, a walkable beach town on the coast of the Guanacaste peninsula, is attracting not only vacationers but investors looking for second-home beach houses and their sweeping views of the Pacific.
Students from the University of Georgia come to the UGA Costa Rica campus in the pastoral alpine setting of Monteverde to experience ecotourism and “life changing moments.” According to interviews and their blogs, few leave disappointed.
Quint Newcomer, former director of the UGA campus in Costa Rica for more than 10 years, shared his love of the country and the campus with its mission of demonstrating that environmental systems and humans are not separate and can operate in harmony.
He also shared his concern for the havoc that climate change may cause the entire region due to droughts and mismanagement of natural resources — a sobering note in a paradisiacal setting.
The ebullience of Ariel Vargas, director and general manager of VMware Inc., and his commitment to workforce training and job creation provided a counterpoint to the encroaching climate crisis as Costa Ricans benefit from opportunities to escape poverty and build new lives.