A newly launched plan to boost metro Atlanta’s export output will reach outside the city limits and prioritize engagement with minority-owned businesses, leaders said at the unveiling of the Atlanta Metro Export Plan Wednesday.   

JPMorgan Chase & Co. committed $300,000 to the initiative, an effort among city and regional leaders that includes the launch of the Atlanta Export Portal, which local resources to help small and medium-sized companies expand overseas sales.  

The tools were always there, just not consolidated or promoted well, said David Balos, market leader for Georgia and Alabama for the bank, which has backed the plan over the last two years through the Brookings Institution‘s Global Cities Initiative.  

“There were a lot of cats that needed to be herded,” Mr. Balos said. “This portal, all it’s doing is pulling this information together and making it a little more accessible and a one-stop shop.” 

Leaders said exports are key to metro Atlanta’s competitiveness but that the area hasn’t realized its full potential. 

Mayor Kasim Reed said metro area has 150,000 jobs supported by trade, but further growth is hindered by American companies’ fear of the unknown.  

With a globalized economy, a sluggish U.S. recovery and 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the U.S., that’s no longer a tenable position, the mayor said.  

“We’re going to have to get rid of the fear that comes with selling your good internationally, and that’s what this initiative is all about,” Mr. Reed said.  

He added that a major objective of the plan is “building bridges” between small Atlanta companies and corporate giants like Delta Air Lines Inc.Coca-Cola Co. and United Parcel Service Inc., which have successfully cracked new markets all over the world, building the Atlanta brand in the process.  

“Anywhere you travel in the world, Coca-Cola has a home office,” the mayor said.    

While Atlanta ranks No. 14 overall in metro exports, it’s No. 75 in what Brookings calls export intensity, which measures the proportion of overall economic output attributable to exports.  

Metro Atlanta Chamber President Hala Moddelmog said that’s partly because the city is so heavy in services like franchising, and that’s not always such a bad thing: They might not bring as much revenue as manufactured goods like cars, but profit margins on say, royalties from overseas restaurants, are often massive, she told Global Atlanta. Atlanta’s export makeup is almost evenly distributed between goods (like auto parts and poultry) and services (like logistics, air travel and education). 

Still, there’s room for improvement, she said.  

“If I know the mayor and the other people in this room, I know 75 doesn’t work for us,” Ms. Moddelmog said.  

The new Atlanta MEP will include a roadshow to build export awareness throughout the 29 counties of the metro area. About two-thirds of the JPMorgan money will go toward a yet-to-be-outlined “Export Challenge” that will provide export grants to small businesses. 

Outlying counties will be crucial conduits to the small businesses that need to hear the export gospel most, said Dan Kaufman, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.  

Even having posted $3.5 billion in exports last year, Gwinnett County alone probably has 21,000 small businesses that aren’t yet selling abroad, Mr. Kauffman said. And with every $1 billion in new exports comes 5,800 new jobs, according to studies by the U.S. Commerce Department

“We believe strongly it’s critical for local counties to be engaged in this initiative,” Mr. Kauffman said.  

One Gwinnett-based firm, AdEdge Technologies, is living proof of the value of looking beyond borders. The company, which provides systems for filtering arsenic from water, has boosted exports from 5 percent of its business in 2011 to more than 40 percent last year, according to CEO Rich Cavagnaro.  

That’s partly thanks to the water filtration company’s use of export resources from the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the U.S. Commercial Service.  

“All those groups are all different extensions of our sales force as they reach out and touch many people,” Mr. Cavagnaro said at the launch event, praising collaboration among regional, state and national leaders in metro Atlanta.  

Gwinnett is also home to many of the minority-, women- and immigrant-owned businesses that could provide low-hanging fruit for export promotion. 

Often thanks to cultural ties back in their heritage markets, minority-owned firms are twice as likely than other companies to export and six times more likely to do business in a language other than English, according to research by Chase.   

In that regard, binational chambers of commerce like the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce-Southeast will become key stakeholders in expanding Atlanta exports, according to Brandon Long, head of business banking in Georgia for Chase.  

Broadly, the Atlanta MEP has three main strategies: better coordinating Atlanta’s existing ecosystem and resources, driving new interest in exporting and building Atlanta’s brand to increase demand for Atlanta-made goods and services.  

The city has recently launched the #ChooseATL branding campaign and is engaged with Brookings on a similar initiative aimed at forming a comprehensive strategy for recruiting foreign direct investment.  

Learn more at www.AtlantaExportPortal.com.  

Download a PDF of the full Atlanta MEP here.  

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...