The Belgian-American Chamber of the South is set to launch in Atlanta Sept. 19, aiming to support and strengthen longstanding ties with a European nation already heavily invested in the region.
Georgia alone is home to 76 Belgian companies in a wide array of industries from flooring to pharmaceuticals, according to Belgian embassy in Washington.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development counts 46 facilities operated by 30 Belgian companies in the state. Georgia companies exported $719 billion in worth of goods to Belgium in 2012, making it the state’s No. 12 export destination.
Belgian flooring firms like IVC US Inc. have long been drawn to Dalton. Manufacturers like Solvay Advanced Polymers and even mining companies like Unimin Corp. have also found homes throughout Georgia, along with software company Exaserv and many others.
The state’s ties with the European nation of 10 million people have developed over decades. Belgium is one of six European Union nations with career consulates in Atlanta, currently headed by Consul General Genevieve Verbeek.
One of the first nonstop international flights to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport took off from Brussels in the late 1970s on Sabena Belgian World Airlines. At the time, billionaire media magnate Anne Cox Chambers was the U.S. ambassador to the country, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, another Georgia native.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development had its European office in Brussels for years before moving it to Munich, Germany.
All of the above are reasons the South needs a vibrant Belgian chamber, said Jan-Paul Kalmeijer, executive director of consulting firm Cognegy LLC and a member of the new chamber’s executive committee.
“We get more and more requests from Belgian companies that want to do activities here in the U.S., and the South is a growing part of the U.S.,” Mr. Kalmeijer told Global Atlanta.
Most members of the executive committee were previously involved with the unrelated Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce, which is based in New York but works through regional chapters around the country.
Mr. Kalmeijer said the new chamber aims to provide a local resource for Belgian companies or for U.S. companies looking to set up shop in Belgium, which is headquarters of the European Union. The new chamber has lined up sponsorships from Belgian firms like Bekaert Corp., Beaulieu of America and Balta Group, he said.
The chamber aims to host cultural events, networking gatherings and an annual fundraising banquet, among other events throughout the year that offer firsthand perspectives on doing business in Belgium and the Southeast.
The chamber is hosting a free launch event Sept. 19 at the offices of Burr & Forman LLP. To learn more or to register, click here.
Other members of the executive committee include Anton Mertens, immigration attorney, Burr & Forman LLP; Geert Voet, senior vice president, Bekaert Corp.; Jean-Pierre Demeunynck, director, Solvay Specialty Polymers and Brigitte Peleman-Vantieghem, CEO, Unibind Inc.