Every year since 2009, Gwinnett County officials or economic development leaders have traveled to South Korea’s capital to fulfill a promise of business and cultural collaboration made more than a decade ago.
That hasn’t been possible so far in 2021, but the pandemic couldn’t keep the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the prosperous Seoul district of Gangnam from reinvigorating their relationship from afar.
Fittingly for Gangnam, a center for digital media and connectivity situated in a country regularly touted for its advanced technology prowess, the two sides held a virtual signing ceremony on a deal renewing their commitment to trade, tourism and investment exchange.
The deal echoes the original memorandum of understanding signed in 2009, years before the K-Pop mega-hit “Gangnam Style” made the district south of the Han river a household name around the world.
The rudimentary renewal adds a new twist, asking both sides to initiate online business meetings, webinar, forums and other “remote activities” in addition to travel exchanges that have served as the bedrock for the decade-long relationship.
Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she hoped to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Charlotte Nash, who visited Gangnam often on delegations.
“I truly hope to have the same opportunity in the years ahead. In Gwinnett, diversity is our strengths and we leverage or that strength through partnerships of people of all backgrounds, to collaborate, innovate and find success,” Ms. Hendrickson said in a recorded message, noting that the county is home to about half of Georgia’s 200,000-strong Korean community. She added that Korean-Americans own 2,400 businesses there.
Nick Masino, who was on hand for the original signing as vice president of economic development back in 2009, presided over this one as president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber.
“South Korea is invaluable to our local economy,” Mr. Masino said while acknowledging the growing investment by Korean companies in the state and county. “We look forward to the many ways we can strengthen business relations and economic development. We are grateful to have a strong ally in Gangnam.”
The signing came just a week before Korean President Moon Jae-in was slated to visit Jackson County, just up Interstate 85 from Gwinnett, where SK Innovation is building a $2.6 billion battery plant. Already, Gwinnett has seen some spillover investment.
Rob Rapson, charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Seoul, said the collaboration is an example of how the bilateral U.S.-Korea alliance can be bolstered by bottom-up exchanges.
“We regularly talk about the ironclad alliance between our two countries at the national level — and our alliance with Korea is as strong as it’s ever been — but the building blocks of this alliance and partnership fundamentally begins at the people-to-people and local and community level,” Mr. Rapson said.
Mayor Soon-kyun Jung signed the agreement on behalf of Gangnam, which he said is the center of the “Hallyu,” or cultural Korean wave, that has swept the world over the last decade, driving global popularity of Korean cosmetics and beauty products. Health is a major sector in Gangnam, which Mr. Jung said is home to 2,500 medical facilities.
Mr. Jung also cited a massive intermodal project at Yeongdong Daero with more than 1.5 million square feet of mixed use space — 35 times the size of a nearby baseball complex — as a project that would transform an area known as a center for global business in the next six years.
“Although it’s a difficult time for everyone due to COVID-19, I hope today’s ceremony will lead to more exchanges with the Gwinnett Chamber in many areas, including but not limited to, healthcare and IT solutions,” Mr. Jung said.
Also attending from the Gangnam District office were Geon-Heyong Cho, cultural affairs specialist, Hi-Joo Kim, director of the new design bureau and Gwang-Soo Kim, director of the tourism promotion division.
Gwinnett Chamber Board Chair Doug Jenkins joined Mr. Masino in the signing ceremony.
Watch the video of the signing below:
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