Despite the Russian invasion in August, the Republic of Georgia is a promising market for U.S. investors because of a sound banking system, low taxes, light government business regulation and an infusion of $4.5 billion in foreign aid, leaders told participants of a trade conference in Atlanta on Dec. 12.
“Things are absolutely not as bad as someone might expect,” said Badri Japaridze, a founder and vice chairman of one of the largest banks in Georgia, JSC TBC in Tbilisi. “Georgia remains an attractive place to invest.”
Mr. Japaridze spoke at a conference co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Atlanta-Tbilisi Sister City Committee. Atlanta has a 20-year sister-city relationship with Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Atlanta attorney John Hall, who travelled to Tbilisi in October, chairs the sister-city committee and was a key organizer of the conference.
Russian troops invaded Georgia in early August, and still occupy parts of the country. Foreign assistance, including a pledge of $1 billion from the United States, has helped mitigate the economic damage, speakers at the Atlanta conference said.
Georgia’s banking system has remained solid, even as the world economic situation has deteriorated in recent months, said Mr. Japaridze. Georgian banks, which according to U.S. government reports have attracted heavy foreign investments, had fewer risky loans than their counterparts in most other countries, said Mr. Japaridze.
”We were under-leveraged,” he said of Georgia’s banks.
Although banks lost some capital because of the invasion, “the money has started to flow back,” said Mr. Japaridze. “Even during the war, banks were working as usual.”
Still, the country needs investors, said Mr. Japaridze. “There are good, middle-sized companies who desperately need capital.”
Mr. Japaridze said the invasion presents “an opportunity to do even better than before the crisis.”
Georgia, a nation of 4 million people, needs foreign investment in areas such as financial services, real estate, retail and hydropower, said Akaki Lomidze, Georgia’s senior counselor at the country’s U.S. embassy in Washington.
He touted the country’s low taxes and light business regulation. For example, there is no minimum wage law there. Georgia also has a “silence is consent” policy for business licenses. If the license is not granted by the government within a specified time period, the business can start operating anyway.
“Georgia will continue its liberal economic reforms,” promised Malkhaz Mikeladze, Georgia’s acting U.S. ambassador.
George Khvitia, a native of the Republic of Georgia who moved to the U.S. as a child, now lives in Atlanta and has a company, Tetnuldi, LLC. that sells various products to his home country. He was one of dozens of attendees to the Atlanta trade forum, which was held at the W Hotel Midtown.
“My main goal is to network and to find some people interested in doing business,” Mr. Khvitia said of the trade forum.
For more information, call Mr. Hall at (404) 954-5000.