Although Korea’s economy is unlikely to improve in the near future, Atlanta and Korean businessmen conducted some 30 meetings last week at a business briefing held at the World Trade Center downtown.
The discussions will continue, Hong Rak Kim, Korea’s consul based in Atlanta, told GlobalFax. His enthusiasm was echoed by Mark Towery, managing director of Fry Consultants, who participated and said that he felt the companies had developed various technologies with market potential.
Short term financing problems were the most serious problems for a number of them, he added. But he also said he thought that strategic partnerships would emerge from the meetings.
While the businessmen conducted one-to-one business meetings, some 80 people attended the lectures presented by a variety of U.S. and Korean authorities.
Young Suk Ohm, dean of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said he did not expect the Korean economy to show any sustained improvement until toward the end of next year. He indicated, however, that low interest rates, low oil prices, the depreciation of the won and the decline of wages have contributed to the economy’s improvement.
Korea had a current account surplus of $40 billion last year, he added, which indicates that its exports have remained strong despite a significant decline in imports.
However, Jang Hee Yoo, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University also in Seoul, said that if Korea’s conglomerates, known as chaebols, were not forced to reform their current business practices, they never would and an historic opportunity would be lost.
He indicated that the chaebols had absorbed most of the funds pumped by international agencies into the economy instead of small- to medium-sized companies. The debt to equity ratios of the chaebols, he added, have risen to 400%, an improvement from their levels of over 500% before the crisis, but still dangerously high.
The briefing was sponsored by Georgia Tech’s Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Emory University and the Georgia Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.
For more information, call Alan Gorowitz, program coordinator, at (404) 894-3199, fax, (404) 894-1903.