Savannah has named 19 volunteer members to a board that will coordinate the city’s efforts to attract foreign tourists and recruit overseas companies and students.
As required by a City Council ordinance authorizing the body in June, the Greater Savannah International Alliance includes educators, business leaders, residents and economic developers with international experience and connections.
The list, approved Monday by the council, includes two Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. executives and former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson, who is now president of engineering and architectural firm Hussey, Gay, Bell & Deyoung International. The firm has offices in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, according to its website. Mr. Johnson could not be reached for comment.
The alliance is modeled after the “International Cabinet” in Charlotte, N.C., where a city-led task force traveled before putting the structure for the alliance in place. Savannah hopes it will help make the Hostess City an even more welcoming place for foreign investors, residents, visitors and scholars.
A spirit of openness was already evident in Savannah; it just needed to be organized better, said Jennifer Abshire Patterson, who moved from Marietta to Savannah in 1988. Ms. Abshire Patterson said her firm, Abshire Public Relations, has often been called upon to help foreign firms like JCB Inc. and Mitsubishi Power Systems get acclimated to Savannah.
“Once people get to Savannah, they see the benefits of doing business here, but the quicker you can do that the better,” she said.
She was encouraged by the city council to join the alliance, which she hopes will consolidate the resources and contacts companies need to get up and running more quickly, she said.
Ms. Abshire Patterson has traveled to “more countries than I have states,” including many in Europe and the Caribbean, as well as the Maldives islands, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.
“You’ll find that in most cases, the warmth of Savannah plays well with most of the international cities, and if we can parlay that into business with other countries, that will be a significant benefit for us,” she said.
That’s the hope of Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, who has told GlobalAtlanta that his city’s mission will differ from Charlotte’s. While the North Carolina city focuses on serving and retaining the businesses it has, Savannah must focus on attracting more global companies, he said in an August interview.
“We have some, but we don’t have as many as we would like to have, so our recruitment is paramount to this effort,” said Mr. Johnson, who in September traveled with a coastal Georgia delegation on a business mission to China.
The leadership shown by Mr. Johnson and other city officials is “visionary,” as cities can’t afford to ignore the global aspect of economic development, said Peggy Jolley, regional manager for community economic development at Georgia Power Co., who was also named to the alliance.
“The world is global now, so for us to expect to grow as a community or as a state without a global presence is short-sighted. We need to reach to all areas that have room to grow” and the ability to expand in the U.S., said Ms. Jolley, who has traveled to Canada, Germany, Italy, South Korea and the United Kingdom on trade missions.
She said the alliance will help foreign executives and their families transition to a new culture, organizing services like Saturday schools and transportation for spouses who didn’t have a driver’s license in their home countries.
Brynn Grant, vice president in charge of marketing for the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said she’s excited about being named to the international alliance. While she hasn’t taken part in any overseas trade missions, she has been active with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia and played a role in Savannah’s hosting of an annual Southeast U.S.-Canada conference in 2008.
She’s glad that the alliance will help organizations with different interests work together for the good of the city.
“When positioning a city of our size, one of the biggest challenges is resources. You really have to think strategically about how you can get the greatest return on your investment,” she said.
Savannah’s relationship with Sweden has blossomed after some reciprocal visits and agreements with a few cities focused on environmental initiatives. Savannah hosted the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce’s biannual Entrepreneurial Days conference in 2009.
Ms. Grant said Canada has also emerged as a strong partner, and the economic development authority often partners with the state of Georgia on recruitment projects, which are increasingly coming from abroad.
“The international companies on our active project list have certainly increased over the last year or so,” she said.
Savannah is home to the fourth busiest container port in the U.S., with most of its traffic coming from China. The city has annual St. Patrick’s Day festival to celebrate many citizens’ Irish heritage. It also has Greek and Chinese festivals each year.
Members of the Greater Savannah International Alliance:
–James N. Anderson, director of international education, Armstrong Atlantic State University
–Denis Blackburne, senior vice president for Woda Group, LLC
-Brynn Grant, vice president of marketing, Savannah Economic Development Authority
–Kent Harrington, consultant for international trade
–Bill Hubbard, president and CEO, Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce
–Kevan L. Jackson, director of GV/G500/G550EIS program, Gulfstream
-Eric Johnson, former state senator and gubernatorial candidate and president of Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung International
-Peggy Jolley, regional manager of community economic development, Georgia Power Co.
–Stratton Leopold, film producer
–Jeff Miller, vice president, communications for Gulfstream
–Mohamed Mukhtar, professor, Savannah State University
–J’miah Nabawi, folk storyteller and teaching artist
-Jennifer Abshire Patterson, founder and CCO, Abshire Public Relations
–Kevin Paul, international admissions counselor, Savannah College of Art and Design
–Cristina Piva, Bonaventture Books and Continental Shelf Publishing
–Richard Shinhoster, international importer
–Nancy Shumaker, assistant vice president of Georgia Southern University
–Pamela Terekhova, Global Relations
–Karen Wilds, program manager, Savannah State University
For more on the city’s international efforts, read: