Savannah economic developers are pursuing a World Trade Center designation they’re calling a tool for job creation in coastal Georgia.
The Savannah Economic Development Authority board of directors voted unanimously Sept. 14 to apply to become one of more than 330 licensed centers in 98 countries. Atlanta is the only other World Trade Center city in Georgia, though there are more than 50 across the U.S.
The non-profit World Trade Centers Association, based in New York, aims to foster cross-border business and trade by linking metropolitan areas around the world. The organization’s board is expected to put SEDA’s application to a vote by mid-October, said Steve Weathers, SEDA’s president and CEO.
SEDA began considering the designation after a meeting in May revealed holes in the area’s international growth plan despite the recent creation of the Greater Savannah International Alliance, a volunteer advisory board tasked with charting the course for the city’s global relationships, Mr. Weathers said.
“There really was no formal, proactive, professional kind of strategy” for creating jobs by helping local companies trade and recruiting foreign investment, he told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Weathers and a SEDA team spent three months researching Savannah’s advantages and resources, ultimately deciding that a World Trade Center was the quickest and best way to begin moving toward these goals.
The cachet of the World Trade Center brand was a factor, but more important was entry into a global network of like-minded organizations.
“One of the real drivers is that you become part of this instant international network of international entities that really have the same purpose in mind, and that’s job creation in their areas,” Mr. Weathers said.
A World Trade Center in Savannah would initially focus on providing trade services for smaller companies that don’t have the resources or knowledge to export. More global sales equals more local jobs as companies expand their headquarters, Mr. Weathers said.
But why start another international organization in a place with a new international alliance, the fastest growing port in the U.S. and a local U.S. Export Assistance Center?
Mr. Weathers pointed out that the alliance is a volunteer group, the port is logistics-focused and the commercial service covers southeastern Georgia with only one officer, Todd Gerken. The World Trade Center will have a staff dedicated to helping small companies in a way that complements the existing organizations and fits into the region’s overall growth plans, he said.
“We have a lot of synergies to actually work together and make both of our missions better,” he said.
Mr. Weathers added that the World Trade Center, though housed at SEDA, will be a separate entity with a broader mandate to serve the whole of coastal Georgia.
While Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson was on hand for the Tuesday vote, so were officials from Chatham, Liberty, Effingham and Bryan counties as well as the city of Brunswick, he said.
Mr. Weathers is no stranger to promoting an economic region. Before coming to Savannah last October, the 20-year economic development veteran spent five years in Toledo, Ohio, where he worked with 22 counties, including a few across the Michigan border.
He also has experience vying for a World Trade Center, helping found the San Diego branch while serving at the city’s economic development agency in 1994.
Building momentum this time hasn’t been much different from the first.
“A lot of it is just educating all the right business leaders, elected officials and community leaders, and they have to come to their own conclusion that it’s the right thing,” Mr. Weathers said.
His team’s research identified competitive sectors in the regional economy. Advanced materials and manufacturing, aerospace and specialty foods rose to the top.
Aside from the port, the area’s assets include a creative and educated workforce, low cost of doing business, advanced logistics infrastructure and “unique” resources like the Savannah College of Art & Design and the Herty Advanced Materials Center, Mr. Weathers said.
The World Trade Center license requires a one-time fee of $200,000 and annual membership dues of $10,000.
Visit www.seda.org for more information.