Italy’s new honorary consul in Georgia is aiming to raise the profile of a country with a heavy business influence here that hasn’t been appropriately recognized.
“Unlike countries like Germany that have a very organized presence in Atlanta, the Italians to date haven’t really had that, and so one of my goals is to help raise our profile and help make that happen,” said Ryan Kurtz, a Miller & Martin LLP attorney who was named Italy’s official representative in Georgia this month. He replaces Angela Della Costanza Turner, who served in the post for about a decade.
Mr. Kurtz, whose wife is Italian, went to Italy for a year in 2001 as a visiting attorney through a partnership between Miller & Martin and Legance, a Rome-based member of the World Law Group alliance.
Since then, he has been active in helping Italian businesses set up shop in the South, as well as traveling with local economic development agencies and the Italian government on trade missions to the country, which despite having faced recession in recent years remains one of the world’s 10 largest economies, around the same size as India in nominal terms.
More than 50 Italian firms in Georgia, many of them manufacturers, employ about 1,000 people, and the country is the state’s 18th largest export destination, buying $527 million in Georgia products in 2014. Companies like Pirelli Tire and fiber manufacturer Aquafil in Rome and Cartersville, respectively, along with Cavanna Packaging in Duluth, are just a few that have been investing here in recent years.
“There are more Italian companies than one would think, and we’ve just got to figure out how to bring them together for common causes,” Mr. Kurtz told Global Atlanta. He noted that on the agenda might be the creation of a new Italian chamber of commerce, something that has been explored in the past by a Miami-based group but not yet launched. The Italian Trade Commission does maintain an office in Atlanta.
Italy, known for its wine, fashion and culture, is also still one of the top destinations for Georgians studying abroad. Kennesaw State University, for instance, is leading a trip in May to raise money for its campus in an 18-century castle in the Montepulciano region of Tuscany. A University of Georgia arts and language program in Cortona, Italy, has seen 8,000 alumni since its inauguration in 1970. Georgia Tech has dual-degree programs with Italian universities.
Mr. Kurtz said Italy also has a new consul general in Miami, Gloria Marina Bellelli, who is slated to visit Atlanta in March and is keen to build educational and tourism connections. Georgia is under her jurisdiction.
Miller & Martin welcomed the news that one of its own had been named one of the more than 60 countries that have official diplomatic representation in the state.
“Our reputation in the international market continues to grow as many of our attorneys have developed strong relationships with international businesses that recognize the growth opportunities available in the Southeast,” Chris Parker, managing member of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based firm’s Atlanta office, said in a statement. “Ryan’s appointment as consul is a testament to his commitment to strengthening our business ties and attracting global industry to this region.”
Mr. Kurtz, whose legal practice focuses on business litigation and dispute resolution, said Italy is moving in the right direction economically after a period of malaise and that the state should expect more Italian investment in the future.
“I think we’ll continue to see a lot of Italian companies coming to the U.S. and those that are here putting more resources into their U.S. operations.”