Georges Hoffmann was smitten by Atlanta‘s sunny March weather when he first arrived in 1982 and, as he told Global Atlanta, “the rest is history.”
Mr. Hoffmann’s personal history involves a career as an international lawyer that took him from his native Belgium, to Washington and then on to Atlanta.
Along the way he has served as honorary consul of Luxembourg for Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas since 1995, as vice dean of the Atlanta Consular Corps from 2013 until now, and as a member of the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center.
Nor has he forgotten his native Belgium for which he’s been an adviser on foreign trade, 1988-2000, a director of the Belgian American Chamber of Commerce, serving as president for five years from 1989-1994.
Fluent in French, Dutch, Spanish and German, he also has served as president of the Alliance Française d’Atlanta, first as a member of the board of governors since 1992 and then president from 1998-2002.
He first came to the United States in 1980 with the encouragement of an American law firm with offices in Brussels, which wanted him to become acquainted with U.S. law by attending Georgia Washington University‘s law school in Washington, and then return to Belgium with a rolodex full of contacts and potential clients.
Well aware of “Potomac Fever,” he has positive memories of the U.S. capital where he didn’t have to have a car, walked everywhere and “was in great physical shape.” After a year of training in what he called a clerkship, he realized that “I really would like to stay longer.”
As fate would have it, he received an offer from the firm Kilpartick & Cody, which has had offices in Atlanta since 1874, and a robust international practice. Additionally he interviewed in Cleveland, Ohio, where he quickly surmised that the northern climate wouldn’t be as sunny as that of Atlanta.
As a Belgian he was used to overcast skies, but he was taken with his initial exposure to Atlanta’s climate and cast his fate with the South. It didn’t hurt either that soon afterwards he met his future wife who was originally from San Francisco but was pursuing a communications degree at the University of Georgia.
“Why not try out Atlanta,” he mused thinking he might stay for a year or two, then saw that several of Belgium’s largest firms were moving to the Atlanta metro area as well. “I saw Balta and Barco arrive, and Bekaert was already here,” he said.
The arrival of these companies was a signal that times were changing and that the Southeast had become an attractive market for foreign investment.
The Balta Group is the largest producer of textile floor coverings in Europe and Barco NV is a technology company that develops visualization and collaboration solutions to help professionals work together, share information, and project images in cinemas and elsewhere. Berkaert Corp. transforms steel wire for a wide variety of commercial uses.
When challenged about his decision to settle in Atlanta, he replies that he has had no second thoughts about this decision. “If asked by a New Yorker ‘What about concerts or museums?’ I reply ‘You are right it may not be New York, but when was the last time you were at a concert or the museum?’. There’s plenty right here. Atlanta is green, it is family oriented or at least in Cobb County where I live and it has all the culture that you may want.”
The Atlanta of today is a far cry from the Atlanta of the 1980s or 90s and Mr. Hoffmann’s career and family have grown along with it. Following 13 years with the Atlanta-based firm Smith Gambrell & Russell LLP, he has moved on to the boutique firm of Lemoine & Lefebvre LLP with offices in Atlanta and Paris. The firm’s founder Dominique Lemoine recently was joined by Frederic Lefebvre, the former French politician who served in the cabinet of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and as a representative in the French parliament on behalf of overseas French living in North America.
Mr. Hoffmann said that the firm does some immigration work, but is primarily representing international companies with operations in the U.S.
It was serendipitous to be Belgian in Atlanta around the time of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Anne Cox Chambers, the politically active philanthropist and media proprietor, had been the U.S. ambassador to Belgium from 1977 to 1981, and had actively promoted Atlanta during her service in Brussels.
As Belgian government and trade officials checked out Atlanta prior to the Games they often quipped that Georgia was Belgium’s “10th province.” The number of provinces was a political issue at the time and eventually another province was added in a redistribution of civic responsibilities. But Georgia’s reference as a “10th province” underscored its importance as a recipient of Belgian investment in the state.
For Mr. Hoffmann the period preceding the Olympics was a time of great opportunity. He was selected to be Belgium’s Olympic Attaché for the Atlanta Centennial Games and the Paralympics and recalls with pleasure the two gold, two silver and two bronze medals that Belgium won for swimming, judo and sailing.
Prior to his Olympic duties, Mr. Hoffmann also was active promoting business with Europe and organized in the early 1990’s a trade mission to Belgium. He also arranged a stopover in Luxembourg.
During this period, he had good relations with Luxembourg’s embassy in Washington and decided to include the stopover on the way back to Atlanta. “My grandfather was from Luxembourg,” he said, “and I thought to myself I’ve got to do something with Luxembourg.”
This foray resulted in his appointment as the honorary consul of Luxembourg, a post he has held since 1995 and for which he was knighted in June by H.E. Sylvie Lucas, Luxembourg’s current ambassador to the U.S.
Mr. Hoffmann considers the role of an honorary consul of which there are almost 40 in Atlanta’s Consular Corps as the “mortar” that provides stability for the Corps itself while the consuls general come and go often along with their staffs. They also provide links for Southeastern companies with international ambitions and contacts to the countries that they represent.
Although small and landlocked with a population of less than 1 million, Luxembourg is bordered by Belgium, Germany and France and has vibrant business sectors many of which overlap with those of the Southeast including automotive, clean tech, finance, information technology, life sciences and logistics among others.
Additionally, it has a thriving space industry and is the world’s leading satellite operator.
These days Atlanta also has another special attachment to Luxembourg. Randy Evans an Atlanta lawyer who has been active in the Republic party is serving as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, a development which Mr. Hoffmann calls “good for Georgia because of his ability to foster our relationship there.”
Mr. Hoffmann may be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 770-351-1548.