Less than a month after a major Saudi Arabian business conference in Atlanta, the Middle Eastern nation announced a $29.4 billion aircraft purchase that will send ripples across Georgia.

The country is to buy 84 Boeing-made F-15SA fighter aircraft from the U.S. and upgrade its 70 existing F-15s, according to a U.S. Air Force news release.  

The modernization of the Saudi fleet, amounting to about one-third of the deal’s total value, will be managed out of Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga. The deal will result in up to 85 new jobs for contractors and civil service workers through 2020, spokeswoman Chrissy Miner told GlobalAtlanta. 

The program is a reprieve for a base attempting to use voluntary retirement packages and early buyouts to cull 600 of its 23,000 workers in the wake of Department of Defense budget cuts.

The Saudi F-15 agreement doesn’t stop with the planes. As it has for 25 years, the U.S. will provide training for Saudi airmen at bases around the country.

During the U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta Dec. 5-7, top ministers from the country affirmed the country’s strong ties with the U.S. but sought to entice investors from beyond the oil and defense sectors.

Saudi Commerce Minister Abdullah Alireza announced at the forum that the country is to spend $3 billion on solar-panel production and $100 billion to build nuclear plants, among other investments in a $380 billion plan to boost the private sector with government funds.

He also welcomed increased U.S. exports to the country and stronger friendships between businesspeople.

Gary Hunt, who works on military contracts for Boeing Co. and traveled from  St. Louis to attend the forum, told GlobalAtlanta relationships are key to business in Saudi Arabia, comparing the deal process to frequenting a local barbershop or restaurant.

Potential investors should take care to show that they are there for the long-term benefit of the country, not just for short-term gain, Mr. Hunt said.

“It’s hard to get in the door, first of all, but once you’re in, set up a presence there that is more than just the deal,” he said.

Boeing has been working in the country for more than 30 years and operates multiple business units there. It has been hiring more local staff in recent years both to build Saudi capacity and cut down on the cost of relocating expatriate workers, he added. 

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...