The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce has established informal ties with Busan, a South Korean city home to 3.6 million people and the world’s fifth busiest container port.
A 15-person delegation from the Busan Chamber of Commerce and Industry visited Atlanta Nov. 17 during a U.S. mission that included stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York.
Before a luncheon at the Gwinnett chamber’s 1818 Club, the two sides signed an agreement to explore ways to foster future business exchange. Busan chamber officials hope Gwinnett chamber leaders will reciprocate their visit next summer.
Busan chamber President Shin Jung-taek headlined the group. Mr. Shin is president of SEUN Steel Co. Ltd., a large Busan-based steel manufacturer that supplies Korean steel giant POSCO and Hyundai Motor Co., among other large companies, he told GlobalAtlanta.
Officials from both chambers registered excitement about the new relationship but said it’s too early to tell if it will lead to any solid business.
Mr. Shin sees potential for Busan’s many auto parts suppliers to benefit from a presence near the South‘s growing auto industry cluster, particularly plants built by Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia Motors in Alabama and Georgia, respectively.
His chamber also can provide leads for Gwinnett companies looking to tap Korea as a market.
“Whoever comes from Gwinnett County looking for some new business in Korea, we are more than willing to provide information, since we have a lot of resources,” Mr. Shin told GlobalAtlanta. The chamber has 3,256 member companies, nearly 36 percent of which are manufacturing firms, according to its Web site.
Jay Eun, a Gwinnett chamber board member and head of its Global Business Council, kick-started the Busan relationship, meeting with chamber leaders there during Gwinnett’s business mission to South Korea this summer.
“We had some general conversations about how we can start and build up the business relationship,” he said.
The visit was a homecoming for Mr. Eun, who grew up in Busan and left in 1979. In July, Mr. Eun returned to a city that boasts twice the population of 30 years ago and has become a hub for auto manufacturing, logistics, technology and shipbuilding.
Mr. Eun met with a high-level chamber official and learned that Atlanta wasn’t on the itinerary for an upcoming U.S. business mission.
“I strongly suggested to him: ‘Atlanta, you can’t skip. Atlanta is the future of the U.S.,'” Mr. Eun told GlobalAtlanta.
After fitting Atlanta into its schedule, the chamber planned a three-day tour that included the Gwinnett chamber meeting, a tour of Duluth and a visit to the Georgia Institute of Technology.
No trips to the Port of Savannah were planned, but Mr. Eun believes the Savannah and Busan ports would be an ideal match. Busan, on Korea’s southeastern coast, has the fifth busiest container port in the world, handling about 13 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually. Savannah has roughly one-sixth of Busan’s container traffic volumes but is the fourth busiest and fastest growing U.S. port.
Yong-suk Choi, a Busan wine exporter and chamber delegate, said Atlanta has changed dramatically since he lived here 25 years ago. Mr. Choi’s family owned one of the main Coca-Cola bottling companies in Korea until 1997. He spent a year here working on the family firm’s Coke relationship.
In the 1980s, Korean influence in Atlanta was sparse, he said.
“At that time there were not many Koreans around, but now I see many Koreans here. It’s really surprising. I’m very happy to see Koreans are heavily involved in the local communities and businesses, especially in chamber of commerce activities,” Mr. Choi told GlobalAtlanta.
The Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta estimates that about half of Georgia’s 83,000 people of Korean descent live in Gwinnett County.
Nick Masino, vice president for economic development at the Gwinnett chamber, said this community is an invaluable asset in the county’s Korean recruitment efforts and that the Busan relationship is part of a larger strategy.
“Once again we’re taking advantage of that strong Korea connection,” he said.
During their first Asian trade mission in June, chamber leaders finalized a sister-community bond with Gangnam, a prosperous district of Seoul. Mr. Eun, who was just elected to his second two-year term at the Korean-American association, was also instrumental in that relationship.
In August, Mr. Masino and Mr. Eun traveled to the city of Incheon to speak at a special Atlanta symposium as part of the 80-day Incheon Global Fair and Festival.
In September, the chamber announced that it would host a representative of the Small and Medium Business Corp. of Korea. The yet unnamed liaison will spend a two-year term in Georgia working to foster business exchange between Georgia and Korea.