On the eve of the Olympic coming-out party in Beijing, Gov. Sonny Perdue visited China to help Georgia take another step of its own onto the global stage.
Just a half-hour flight away from the celebratory capital, Mr. Perdue this week represented Georgia at a Regional Leaders Conference, where state officials from seven countries convened to share practices primarily on energy and health care.
The conference was held in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province on China’s eastern coast. Mr. Perdue did meet with Shandong’s top government officials, but his focus was broader than simply nurturing ties there.
In a conference call Wednesday with Georgia news services including GlobalAtlanta, Mr. Perdue said he held one-on-one meetings with his counterparts from states in Austria, Canada, China, Germany and South Africa.
Georgia is the newest member of the 6-year-old alliance, which has met every two years since 2002. Mr. Perdue said its founders wanted U.S. representation and singled out Georgia as a leading state in a fast-growing region of the country.
Mr. Perdue, who returns Friday, said it was helpful to share knowledge on pressing worldwide issues with other states and learn about how Georgia is perceived across the globe.
Thanks to the 1996 Olympics, he said his Chinese hosts and other delegates knew about Georgia.
“I wouldn’t be here today if not for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta,” he said.
He pointed to Georgia’s status as the sole U.S. state in the alliance as an indicator of the state’s ascension as a global player.
“It’s a huge step forward for Georgia becoming a bona fide member globally on the world scene,” he said, adding that the state is now noticed along with well-known states like Florida and California.
Georgia’s place in the alliance and Mr. Perdue’s 15th international trip are the culmination of many of his overseas efforts. The state was first solicited to participate during a 2003 trip to the southern German state of Bavaria.
That same year, Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber signed a joint declaration with the Quebec Premier Jean Charest to grow a longstanding relationship with the Canadian province. Those two leaders were instrumental in founding the Regional Leaders Conference, Mr. Perdue said.
Georgia has its own ties to Mr. Charest and Quebec. Last year, Georgia and Quebec led the launch of a trade alliance between six Southeastern states and seven Canadian provinces. Canada-SEUS held its first yearly meeting in June in Savannah.
Mr. Charest and the Quebec business community have shown particular interest in efforts by companies in Georgia to convert cellulose-based biomass into fuel, Mr. Perdue said.
Despite the 2003 invitation to join the Regional Leaders alliance, Mr. Perdue delayed participation until this year.
“We concluded that it would be the right thing to do as Georgia put on a global face and reached into all the regions of the world,” he said.
He added that building relationships like these are a prime component of international economic development, even more so than on the domestic scene.
“What we find typically when people want to go outside their country and locate in the United States market, they depend on prior existing relationships that have been fruitful,” he said, pointing to Kia Motors’ selection of the West Point site for its first U.S. manufacturing plant as an example.
Mr. Perdue was struck at the conference by the “global awareness” and widespread interest in alternative energy sources. According to Mr. Perdue, Upper Austria Gov. Josef Pühringer showed interest in solar companies in Georgia.
Mr. Perdue also spoke on the importance of promoting Georgia in an era where global companies still want to tap into the American consumer market’s vast well of purchasing power. Companies like the three Chinese manufacturers with operations in Georgia are moving to the U.S. for more efficient access to their buyers, he said.
Although not his explicit mission, Mr. Perdue didn’t pass up the chance to further the state’s relations with China, its second-largest export destination.
He ate at a banquet with Jiang Daming, governor of Shandong, and Jiang Yikang, secretary of the province’s Communist Party branch.
With 92 million people, Shandong has 10 times the population of Georgia in a geographical area of similar size. The flourishing port city of Qingdao and the province’s growing agricultural and technological sectors offer chances for collaboration with Georgia companies, Mr. Perdue said.
Beyond large-scale manufacturers, Mr. Perdue said he hopes to see more grassroots interaction between businesspeople.
“What we are soliciting in China is not just those major companies, but there are a lot of small- and medium-sized companies that can succeed (in Georgia),” Mr. Perdue said.
The trip was Mr. Perdue’s second venture in China in four months. He traveled on Delta Air Lines’ inaugural flight to Shanghai in March and presided over the opening of Georgia’s economic development office in Beijing. It is the state’s newest such office and its 11th worldwide.
Full list of Mr. Perdue’s bilateral meetings:
–Pierre Uys, minister of environment, state of Western Cape, South Africa
-Jean Charest, premier of Quebec
-Josef Pühringer, governor of Upper Austria
-Jiang Daming, governor of Shandong Province; and Jiang Yikang – secretary of Communist Party of China, Shandong Committee
–Markus Söder, state minister of Bavaria