While the inaugural Liberian Business and Investment Forum will be held in New York later this month, Atlanta is to be well represented both behind the scenes and in front of an audience set to include honored guest President George Manneh Weah.
The logistics of the Sept. 26 forum, which is to be held on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly, are being orchestrated by Honorary Consul General Cynthia Lynn Blandford through her Global Strategies for Good consultancy, which facilitates events and trade missions for governments and nonprofits.
Ms. Blandford, who is based in Atlanta, is working with George Patten, Sr., Liberia’s ambassador in Washington, as well as consulates in New York and Minnesota, to launch the forum aimed at putting the West African nation on the investment map, she told Global Atlanta.
She sees the conference as a connecting point for both the diaspora and businesses in the state seeking to tap into Africa’s newfound trade momentum, given the recent enactment of a new continental free trade area.
“Georgia has over 20,000 Liberians and this forum will also be a unique opportunity for engagement and involvement for the diaspora. Through the African Continental Free Trade Area and discussions under way to work with state of Georgia to develop an Africa Agenda, the (forum) can be seen as an entry point to leverage this new economic opportunity,” she told Global Atlanta.
That effort has started at home with outreach to one of Atlanta’s largest companies, AGCO Corp., the Fortune 500 tractor giant that is making a major push into Africa as the continent develops its farm sector.
AGCO’s vice president and general manager for Africa, Nuradin Osman, is set to speak at the event, where the company also will serve as the title sponsor.
Ms. Blandford said this could be a prelude for AGCO executives’ plans to visit Liberia for meetings with high-ranking officials in the ministries of commerce, investment and agriculture. Ms. Blandford visited an AGCO facility in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August to help move that discussion along.
Liberia, a nation of 4 million people, is aiming to capitalize on its natural resources for the benefit of its people, now that it’s on the other side of two civil wars followed by a devastating Ebola outbreak in 2013.
Ms. Blandford envisions the country thriving through international connectivity, exporting its signature products to the U.S. via the logistical links she has been working to foster, including sister port and airport agreements with Savannah and Atlanta, respectively.
Bishop Allan Klayee, managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority, visited Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in late August to rekindle exchanges of best practices, informing his counterparts about upgrades to runways and passenger terminals at Roberts International Airport. Atlanta airport officials revealed plans to travel to Liberia in October, Ms. Blandford said.
Focused on technical knowledge for now, plans are for these links to underpin real commerce, she said.
“One of my goals is to one day have fresh lobster and shrimp flown from Roberts International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson and then on to Whole Foods and restaurants in Georgia and eventually throughout the U.S.,” she said. “Liberia used to be known as the ‘Seafood Capital of the World’. We can strive for this title again today and with the establishment of a Liberian Cargo Village providing jobs to Liberians and helping the economy to grow, while sharing Liberia’s incredible lobster with the world, starting right here in Atlanta.”
That aligns well with the Atlanta airport’s goal of increasing its cargo throughput. While it moves more people than any other airport in the world, the movement of goods has lagged other hubs.
Ms. Blandford also believes Liberia’s plentiful rubber capacity — planted initially by the Firestone company — could become an essential input to the carpet industry in northwest Georgia.
“Liberia is also rich in cocoa, iron ore, diamonds, gold and other commodities,” she said in an email to Global Atlanta.
The New York forum will be attended by Liberia’s ministers of finance, foreign affairs, commerce, public works, agriculture, as well as the executive director of the National Investment Commission.
President Weah’s administration is in the midst of a plan to tackle poverty through economic development, and vetted investors could have a chance to meet with him at a private reception.
The event will be held at the New York Marriott Marquis from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 26. Tickets for the general public are $199 and can be purchased here.
On the same day, metro Atlanta will play host to the U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment Global Summit, also planned in part by Ms. Blandford.
Former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who has worked extensively in Africa, is slated to headline that event in Kennesaw. An awards dinner is slated for Saturday, Sept. 28. See a list of speakers and sign up for that event here.
Learn more about Ms. Blandford’s company at www.globalstrategiesforgood.com.
Editor’s note: AGCO Corp. is also the current sponsor of Global Atlanta’s Africa coverage.