The World Trade Center Savannah’s most recent deep dive looking into where to focus its international outreach has turned up at least a few results that might seem unconventional to those outside the city.
Three out of the five top contenders were European partners — Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland — with longstanding investment ties to Georgia. The latter has deep cultural connections to Savannah, so no surprise there.
Canada has long been the state’s top customer, and there is no shortage of Canadian investment in Savannah, which is home to 25 Canadian companies including DIRTT, which recently won a local business award. Japan is also a major player, with 23 Japanese firms like Mitsubishi Power Systems employing hundreds in the coastal Georgia region and the Japan-America Society of Georgia showing renewed interest in the city. Consuls general from both countries visited the Savannah region in August to talk trade and tariffs.
China Left Out
But in a port city that was the conduit for quite a bit of the state’s $22.2 billion in Chinese imports last year, that country’s absence could be seen as a surprise, especially given how much focus the state and other cities have placed on the investment and trade potential of the world’s second largest economy. China is also a key market for Savannah’s (and Georgia’s) biggest manufacturer: private-jet maker Gulfstream Aerospace.
Savannah has been no stranger to China, sending its mayor on sister-city missions there in years past and participating in ongoing state outreach. When Delta launched a flight to Shanghai in July, Hugh “Trip” Tollison, president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority and the World Trade Center that makes up its international arm, was one of 30 people on a state delegation.
Brynn Grant, vice president of the organization sometimes called WTCSav, said the top-six list isn’t exclusive, just focused narrowly based on where the research led.
“The staff analyzed more than 20,000 points of data, both quantitative and qualitative. It does not mean that we will not work with other countries or proactively pursue partnerships but Canada, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, United Kingdom and Japan rose to the top in our 2018 evaluation effort,” Ms. Grant said.
Data points included trade agreements, import/export data, NGOs facilitating trade, World Trade Centers’ presence, airport access, regional businesses with partnerships and more.
Rare for a city of its size, Savannah also had the foresight to include an African economy, much like a shrewd investor diversifies his portfolio with growth stocks.
Though Africa has been hit by a slowdown in commodities and oil prices, the continent still represents a huge untapped consumer market that is particularly receptive to U.S. exports. Many African commodities can also be imported into the U.S. duty-free thanks to the African Growth and Opportunities Act.
Ghana became the obvious choice because of Savannah’s existing relationships with the West African nation.
“We have already hosted several delegations from Ghana and current and former leadership of Savannah State University enjoy long and productive relationships with respected people and organizations in the country,” Ms. Grant said. “In addition, Ghana has a strong World Trade Center in Accra and an active binational chamber of commerce in Atlanta.”
Accra, the Ghanaian capital, will host the 2021 General Assembly for the World Trade Centers Association, the network of 300-plus centers around the world of which branches in Atlanta and Savannah are members.
Georgia exported about $52 million in goods to Ghana in 2017, down from $97 million in 2014.
This year’s strategic revamp looks largely like the list revealed in 2013, showing that while Savannah has a good bit of continuity in its approach to the world, it also maintains a degree of flexibility.
On the 2018 list, Ireland replaced Brazil, while Ghana was added as a sixth priority country rather including other “secondary” partners. South Africa and Nigeria were highlighted as countries to watch during the last evaluation.
Read more about the 2013 list here: Savannah Recruitment Efforts to Target Five Countries
Read more in a WTCSav blog post about the factors that drove the region’s connectivity with each country, and how researchers landed on the right partners.