Kathe Falls, director of international trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and Craig Lesser, managing partner at Pendleton Consulting Group, in a GlobalAtlanta Roundtable that dealt with trade, international education and competitiveness issues. To see the roundtable discussion go to the link at the bottom of the article.

The most recent GlobalAtlanta Roundtable reviewed Georgia’s resources for promoting international trade and investment in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on its rising exports, foreign offices and educational programs.

Participants included Kathe Falls, director of international trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and Craig Lesser, former commissioner of the department from 2004-2007 and managing partner of the Pendleton Consulting Group. Phil Bolton, publisher of the GlobalAtlanta news service, served as moderator of the Dec. 14 event held at the news service’s office in Decatur.

Both Ms. Falls and Mr. Lesser were encouraged by the positive rise in exports with Georgia having a record year in 2010 and the indications that the export numbers in 2011 would be even better.

Ms. Falls pointed to increased exports in aircraft, electrical and non-electrical machinery, vehicles and wood pulp. Agricultural exports also were rising with a jump in demand for pecans in China.

“While we are doing well, there is room for improvement,” she said.

In December, the department received a $973,429 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to assist Georgia’s small- to medium-sized companies become more involved internationally.

These funds have enabled the department to launch a website that can be found at http://trade.georgia.org to expose qualified companies to the available services as well as advanced notice of international trade missions and trade shows.

The discussion also focused on the sorts of specific problems that exporters face including difficulties in collecting payments, product modifications and in-country assessments.

Ms. Falls referred to the critical role played by the state’s overseas representatives in Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Their offices generate 50 percent of the state’s international business with those countries, she said.

Mr. Lesser looked forward to the upcoming release of the findings and conclusions of Gov. Nathan Deal’s competitiveness initiative, which brought together state and business representatives to analyze critical areas for the state’s economy.

International opportunities and workforce development are among the priorities of the initiative, he said, adding that companies should seek out university research in emerging markets such as that being conducted by the Center for International Business, Education and Research at Georgia State University’s Robinson College.

The importance of the bi-national chambers of commerce and the consulates also was discussed as facilitators of international business and educational and cultural exchanges.

In terms of workforce preparedness, both Ms. Falls and Mr. Lesser stressed the importance of internships as a way of providing practical experience.

On-the-ground experience provides a more realistic view of how decisions are made, according to Mr. Lesser. “Internships are eye opening, provide real experience and an understanding that decisions are not always made on rational grounds,” he added.

Ms. Falls also encouraged students to seek out opportunities to travel and work abroad as an incentive in developing an interest in and appreciation for foreign cultures.

To see the video of the roundtable discussion go here

The department of economic development has put together a document showcasing small and medium-sized companies that export. To download the Building Bridges report, click here