Nema Etheridge for GlobalAtlanta Atlanta will host the Western Hemisphere’s first-ever conference aimed at improving the region’s global competitiveness June 11-13, attracting top-level officials here from all over the Americas.

The U.S. Commerce Department has chosen Atlanta to host the first Americas Competitiveness Forum, a project that brings together senior level government and business officials from throughout the Western Hemisphere to address ways local governments, businesses and universities can work together to foster innovation, technological readiness, supply chain management and workforce development.

Collaborations between Atlanta’s own public and private sectors to promote economic development is one of the reasons it stood out among other cities such as Louisville, Ky., and Research Triangle Park, N.C., which were also vying to host the forum, according to Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

The idea of an Americas Competitiveness Forum, which will work to improve the Western Hemisphere’s standing vis-à-vis other global markets such as Asia or Europe, came as a result of President Bush’s participation in the 2005 Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

The summit, which addressed boosting job creation and implementing a Free Trade Area of the Americas in the Western Hemisphere, also had representation from Georgia.

Georgia’s participation in the conference helped Atlanta secure its position as a host city for the upcoming forum, according to Jose Ignacio Gonzalez, executive director of Hemisphere Inc., which promotes Atlanta as a hub for trade and investment throughout the Americas.

“A contingency from Georgia and Atlanta was very much visible and present in Mar del Plata,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who joined Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Craig Lesser and other Atlanta representatives on the 2005 trip.

Mr. Gonzalez added that during the trip, the Georgia delegation had a chance to quickly meet with Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, who is responsible for carrying out Mr. Bush’s request to organize the upcoming forum.

Traveling to countries throughout the Americas to discuss with top government officials the benefits of doing business in Atlanta has been Hemisphere’s mission since its inception in 2003.

The organization was originally created to secure an Atlanta bid to be the secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would extend a free trade zone from Canada to the southern-most point of the Americas.

But delays to implement such a trade zone have positioned Hemisphere as a part of a greater effort by the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Atlanta-based private companies, such as Delta Air Lines Inc., to promote the city as a business hub throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Mr. Gonzalez believes that the Department of Commerce’s decision to make Atlanta the host city for the upcoming forum means Atlanta’s public-private collaborations are finally paying off.

“We are seeing the consequences of the increased visibility of Georgia and Atlanta throughout the Americas,” Mr. Gonzalez said, adding that he and Alex Mejia, vice president of government relations, as well as other Hemisphere representatives, would be heavily involved in the organization and planning for the June conference, which is expected to attract 500-600 officials from throughout the Americas.

“We’re going to be front and center – there to help the Secretary of Commerce with anything he needs,” he said.

Representatives from Atlanta’s public and private sectors will continue to promote Atlanta as a business hub in the Western Hemisphere long after the conference is over, Mr. Gonzalez added.

Local officials are also trying to secure Atlanta as a host city for a 2008 conference of the Inter-American Development Bank, which could bring up to 6,000 business and senior government officials from throughout the Western Hemisphere to Atlanta.

Mr. Fernandez of the chamber recently traveled to Washington to present Atlanta’s bid on the 2008 conference, for which it is competing against Dallas, Houston and Miami.

Officials who are attending the June 2007 competitiveness conference are expected to share their best practices in business and infrastructure development throughout the three-day forum. They are also scheduled to visit Emory University, the Georgia Aquarium, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Supply Chain and Logistics Institute and other Atlanta destinations during their stay here.

For more information on the conference, contact Tanya Dunne, spokesperson for the Metro chamber, at (404) 586-8471.