The Metro Atlanta Chamber is hoping to lead the creation of a new organization to spur investment activity between Poland and the Southeast United States.
Although it’s still in nascent stages, the idea is to follow the model of SEUS-Japan and SEUS-Canada alliances that bring together government and business leaders from Southeastern states and the partner country each year. Generally, they hold conferences to discuss business and trade issues, alternating locations. Georgia has been integral to the formation of both.
John Woodward, senior director of foreign investment at the chamber and the man behind the SEUS-Poland idea, first introduced it at a Polish investment conference in April in Birmingham, Ala. He also mentioned it this week in Warsaw, Poland, where he outlined the investment advantages of the Southeast and Atlanta at a seminar put on by the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency.
The time is ripe for investment in both directions, as Poland’s internal market grows and its companies become mature enough to compete globally, Mr. Woodward told Global Atlanta in a phone interview from Europe.
“Many companies in Poland are reaching a position where they are already expanding and they could start considering expansion to a market such as the U.S.,” Mr. Woodward said.
In the few years following the recession that began in 2009, Poland was one of Europe’s few bright spots, posting strong growth as its neighbors stumbled through the ongoing sovereign debt crisis. The central European country’s growth has slowed steadily in recent months, but exports have remained strong, buoyed its independent currency, the zloty.
Aerospace is set to be a key driver of Poland’s outbound expansion, Mr. Woodward said. Just before the interview, he had visited Aviation Valley, an industry cluster in the country’s southeast that developed to supply the Soviet air force during communist times but now boasts 112 private companies.
Many are suppliers to France-based Airbus SAS, which is putting a $600 million plant in Mobile, Ala., by 2015.That has Polish suppliers looking at the Southeast instead of U.S. cities they already know, such as Chicago, Mr. Woodward said.
Airbus suppliers from Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France, two other hubs, are also eyeing the South, and they don’t want to just be tied to Mobile, he said. Boeing Co. is also expanding its factory near Charleston, S.C., Lockheed-Martin makes military planes in Marietta, Gulfstream Aerospace builds private jets in Savannah, and a variety of other players of varying sizes are fanned out around the region.
Mr. Woodward noted that he was able to set up meetings between Polish aerospace companies and Georgia representatives visiting the International Paris Air Show June 17-23.
Poland’s ties with the South are still underdeveloped, but that’s all the more reason to promote them, Mr. Woodward said.
“If we as a whole Southeast region can get in and make ourselves known to these folks, to this burgeoning economy, it’s bodes well as a whole for us,” he said.
Atlanta and Poland share complementary economies, Mr. Woodward added. Both are strong in manufacturing, life sciences, digital media and information technology.
How the alliance would look or who would run it have yet to be determined. Mr. Woodward suggested that a conference be organized in Poland in 2014 to build on the momentum of this year’s Birmingham conference.
Poland’s connections with Atlanta have been gathering steam over the past few years.
Lawrence Ashe, an attorney, was named honorary consul for Poland in Atlanta in 2011, the same year that the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce Atlanta was founded. The Polish-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast, a separate chamber, has been around for years.
United Parcel Service Inc. has major European logistics operations employing more than 4,000 people in Poland. Exide Technologies Inc. has a battery factory in the city of Poznan, and NCR Corp. recently announced a deal to install “contactless” ATMs at banks throughout the country.