Charlie Gatlin received a hearty farewell from friends and staff at the Georgia Department of Economic Development following the announcement of his retirement after 20 years of service.
Most recently, Mr. Gatlin has been the deputy commissioner for tourism and marketing at the department. He is to become director of economic and commercial development at ECG, formerly known as the Electric Cities of Georgia, a utility supplier for 51 communities in Georgia and 11 electric utility systems in Florida. He will be replaced by Kevin Langston, the current assistant commissioner for tourism at the department.
As deputy commissioner, Mr. Gatlin oversaw the activities of the department’s Tourism Division. He also served as executive director of the Georgia Tourism Foundation, which works with both the state and private companies to enhance the growth of tourism in Georgia.
He joined the department in 1990. In addition to his most recent post, he served as deputy commissioner for external affairs, chief of staff, deputy commissioner for business recruitment and retention and director of marketing.
During his farewell party, Mr. Gatlin, an accomplished guitar player, received a gift from the staff of a miniature guitar known as an “Andy.” The miniature guitar is named after the son of Howard Paul, CEO of Benedetto Guitars Inc., a well-known guitar manufacturer in Savannah.
GlobalAtlanta sent Mr. Gatlin seven questions to which he responded before officially vacating his current post on Dec. 1.
GlobalAtlanta: Has the Georgia Department of Economic Development changed its marketing of Georgia as an international tourist and business destination over the course of your tenure there? If so, how?
Mr. Gatlin: The amount of activity has changed during my tenure at the department. We’ve put in more resources over time – both funds and staff – and we’ve broadened our approach. For instance, we now have more international offices marketing Georgia opportunities for business and travel – 10 of them in all. There is more focus on these, with the recognition that they are important avenues for creating jobs.
We’ve also added the Georgia Tourism Foundation, a public-private funding mechanism for tourism.
Also, product development, which helps communities around the state establish themselves as tourism destinations, is now a more formal program than it used to be. The Governor’s Conference on Tourism is no longer a state-only conference: we’ve established a partnership with two other groups – the Tourism Development Alliance of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus – to put it on. 2010 will be the third year of this collaboration, which has proved quite successful.
GlobalAtlanta: What impact do you think the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will have on the state?
Mr. Gatlin: Ease of transportation always makes it easier to do business. I believe Delta has done studies that show the impact additional international flights may have on investment in the state.
GlobalAtlanta: Do you anticipate many Chinese visitors coming to Georgia in the next five years? If so, will the state be prepared for them?
Mr. Gatlin: We’re prepared for them now. We know there is a huge market of middle-class Chinese looking to travel, so we are showcasing Georgia within China as a premier destination for Chinese travelers.
Georgia established an office in Beijing a couple of years ago to promote tourism, among other opportunities. State personnel have traveled to China multiple times to meet with tour operators and media, and will continue to do so. We’ve hosted 55 tour operators from China and have already seen the first tour groups here as a result.
We’ve also hosted Chinese journalists in Georgia, including a group from the state’s travel channel, who spent two weeks filming in Georgia last winter. In addition, we’re collaborating with the Southeastern Tourism Society to promote the region as a whole.
GlobalAtlanta: What are the major challenges facing the department at the moment?
Mr. Gatlin: Declining state revenues, which impact our budget. We’re in the same boat as everyone else. But competition doesn’t stop, so we’re being as aggressive as we can to claim market share and get a step up on the competition, so we’ll be in a good position when the economy fully rebounds.
GlobalAtlanta: How effective have the state’s overseas offices been in attracting foreign investment to Georgia?
Mr. Gatlin: Very effective. For instance, the offices we’ve had open the longest are in Japan and Germany, and that’s also where most of our overseas investment comes from. These offices give us a platform to showcase Georgia in the countries themselves. We also have representation specifically for tourism in the U.K. and in Germany.
GlobalAtlanta: Do you think it would be a good idea to have an international trade fair for small- to medium-sized companies from around the world at a location in Georgia such as the Georgia International Convention Center near the airport? If so, why?
Mr. Gatlin: The goals for the event, as for any event, should be clearly defined. GDEcD works closely with small- and medium-sized businesses, helping them grow by selling Georgia products domestically or through international trade. We do this through trade shows and other events, one-on-one assistance, and matching them with the suppliers or other resources they need. Our ultimate mission is to help Georgia companies be successful.
GlobalAtlanta: What are your future plans?
Mr. Gatlin: I will be joining ECG (Electric Cities of Georgia) as director of economic and community development. There are 51 small, medium and large cities, which participate in the ECG program, and I see this as a chance to apply what I’ve learned over the last 33 years and help communities make themselves attractive to investors.
The reward for me will be to see a community become successful and create jobs. This will really just be a continuation of what I’ve been doing, but more hands-on. I’m looking forward to traveling around the state, learning what opportunities are out there for these communities and helping them prepare themselves to attract companies and make them successful.