On the surface, it looks like we’ve been here before. Italy’s consul general came to Atlanta in 2016 with the idea of launching a chapter of the Miami-based Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast.
In fact, the idea of such an outpost has been circulating since at least 2014, when Global Atlanta first reported on it.
The new diplomat in charge of Italy’s ties with the region touched down here this week with the same goal, but with a newfound optimism that this effort will amount to more than words.
Just nine months into his role, Consul General Cristiano Musillo brought the head of the chamber along with Italian Trade Commission Director Andrea Ferrari on his first trip out of Florida. His goal is to underscore how serious the country is about better telling Italy’s story in Georgia.
“This is not just a courtesy visit,” Mr. Musillo said, noting concrete steps being taken to build on the work of his predecessors.
Those include hiring a staffer to help Honorary Consul Ryan Kurtz, who juggles diplomatic duties while practicing law at Miller & Martin PLLC’s Atlanta office, where Mr. Musillo had lunch Tuesday with the Italian business community.
“We are looking forward to building a new wave of relationships with the business community in Atlanta,” Mr. Musillo told Global Atlanta. “We need to create a sort of paradigm, a point of reference, to work together in a much better way.”
The consular visit comes just a few months after Ambassador Armando Varicchio made a short stop here focusing on high-level academic collaboration on engineering, entrepreneurship and technology. The itinerary included an art exhibition at the University of Georgia and a tour of Georgia Institute of Technology. He also announced that a group of Italian companies would visit Atlanta later this fall.
Mr. Musillo confirmed that plans for a delegation were still on track, detecting eagerness on the part of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia economic development leaders to see more engagement with Italy.
For the consul general, changing the narrative is a must. Italy has the enviable advantage of “fantastic stereotypes” — being well-known for its food, wine and luxury goods including fast cars. The country is home to more than 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it’s a magnet for tourists, language learners and fashionistas.
But the untold story of “made in Italy,” underpinned by the hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises driving what remains one of the world’s top 10 economies, is what he thinks will resonate with Georgia. The state has already quietly amassed nearly 60 Italian subsidiaries, and across the South, Italian companies employ an estimated 8,000 people directly. Italy is not only a cultural powerhouse, but it’s also an industrial hub, a key provider of machinery, precision engineering and quality manufacturing, the consul general said.
That means the country that birthed the Renaissance has a lot to offer Georgia in conversations on innovation — particularly in balancing technical knowhow and creativity.
“It’s a sort of humanistic innovation. It’s a holistic way to see the world and to try to give solutions to some problems we have. I think it’s a win-win game, and that’s our posture, our way to collaborate with the local authorities, the universities and local counterparts.”
And truthfully, while south Florida is home to most of the Italians in the five states and many Caribbean islands the consulate covers, many Italian companies find Georgia to be a more representative market for their exports, Tommaso Cardana, president of the Italian chamber’s Miami branch, told Global Atlanta during the interview.
“Georgia is one of the best manufacturing areas in the U.S.; that’s why we think it is as important as Miami,” Mr. Cardana said. We have been active for 28 years now, and I can’t understand why we haven’t had a structure here in Atlanta. We’re a chamber of commerce: We’re dedicated to business, and probably the biggest business city in the Southeast is Atlanta.”
He also made a statement that local boosters would have loved: Atlanta is a hemispheric hub, where small Italian companies on a budget can set up one operation to serve both North and South America from “Alaska to Argentina.”
Just as the honorary consulate is staffing up, the chamber is looking for volunteers to help run business events for the local chapter and manage inbound Italian delegations that from now on will be encouraged to stop in Atlanta. The chamber will be focused on true outreach to the local business community, not just insular conversations among a club of Italian executives.
This work falls to the chamber mainly because there are no plans to reopen an Italian Trade Commission office in Atlanta, which closed down finally a few years back due to budget cuts.
Mr. Ferrari, who heads up the commission’s five U.S. offices, says he will direct more Italian companies northward when the sectors make sense. He also noted that commission can point companies to resources like programs help finance joint ventures between American and Italian companies.
The consul general, Mr. Musillo, sees synergies with Atlanta in industries like aerospace, maritime systems and shipbuilding, smart manufacturing and smartgrid, life sciences, sustainability, vehicles and more. The exact structure of the collaboration with the state is still taking shape.
He expressed confidence in Italy’s trajectory in spite of a tumultuous period in Italian politics, with the fragmented government aiming to avoid EU disciplinary action over a failure to rein in public debt to keep it in line with the bloc’s finance rules.
To learn more about the chamber, visit www.iacc-miami.com.
For more on the trade commission, visit https://www.ice.it/en/markets/usa/miami.