Madrid-based Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA’s acquisition of Alabama’s Compass Bancshares Inc. helps Atlanta in its efforts to secure a Spanish consulate general, Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, told GlobalAtlanta.

“A reach-out of a Spanish company anywhere in the Southeast is a benefit to us,” said Mr. Fernandez, who added that the city was actively pursuing a Spanish consulate and/or trade office to locate here.

Birmingham, Ala.-based Compass announced that it would be acquired for $9.6 billion by the end of the year. Compass has 415 banks in Arizona, Alabama, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas, and it operates loan production offices in Georgia.

In Texas, Compass has 164 banks, which will give Banco Bilbao greater market entry to the state, where it wants to get more involved with the Spanish-speaking market. Already, Banco Bilbao has acquired Valley Bank, Laredo National Bancshares and Texas National Bancshares in Texas over the past two years.

Getting international banks to establish in Georgia is also on the agenda of the metro chamber, Mr. Fernandez said, explaining that it is part of the chamber’s efforts to attract increased foreign direct investment to the city of Atlanta and its 28 surrounding counties.

“Strategic banking is a very important issue for us – just like bringing in strategic companies — it’s all integrated into our efforts to attract foreign direct investment here,” he said.

Since few major banks have located their national headquarters in Atlanta, with the exception of SunTrust Bank, the city is not considered a major financial center, like Charlotte, N.C. or New York.

But major banks such as Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. do have a presence here, and major international banks have also started to invest in Atlanta, Mr. Fernandez said. He cited LaSalle Bank Corp., an indirect subsidiary of Netherlands-based ABN AMRO Holding N.V. that opened here in 2005, and Royal Bank of Canada, which first came to Georgia in 1998, as examples.

While Banco Bilbao’s acquisition of Compass will seemingly have a greater immediate effect on Texas or Alabama than Georgia, Mr. Fernandez still believes that if the Spanish government were to open another official office in the Southeast, it would be in Atlanta.

“If they’re going to open a consulate, they’re going to open one where they have the biggest impact in terms of transportation and business,” he said, explaining that Atlanta fits that criteria.

There are currently 20 career consulates in Georgia and 31 honorary consulates, one of which includes Spain. The country has consulate general offices in Houston, Miami and New Orleans, in addition to five other U.S. cities.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Compass Bancshares press release

Metro Atlanta Chamber’s international initiatives:
Esther Campi – (404) 586-8474, senior vice president of communications at the metro chamber
Tanya Dunne – (404) 586-8471, communications manager