The Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast U.S. has seen Georgia’s exports to Turkey climb more than 45 percent last year to $574.6 million and imports from Georgia rise 35 percent to $228.5 million in comparison to 2009.
But Mevlut Tascan, the chamber’s executive director, isn’t satisfied. Nor is he particularly impressed that last year’s bilateral trade between the U.S. and Turkey amounted to $15 billion.
“It’s almost a joke,” he told GlobalAtlanta during a video interview. He explained that in view of the close military relations between the two countries, trade should be greater.
Since the chamber was established in Atlanta in 2007, Dr. Tascan said that it has focused primarily on developing ties with Georgia.
But now he is looking to expand the chamber’s presence more aggressively outside of the state and has established a branch office in Nashville, Tenn.
In keeping with his new outreach, he recently made a foray to Chattanooga, Tenn., to visit local officials and visit a Turkish nylon cord and polyester manufacturer.
That visit followed on the heels of an innovative trip to Europe where he led a delegation to meet with representatives of Turkish companies to inform them about opportunities throughout the Southeast.
Georgia is one of six states that the Turkish government has chosen with which to concentrate on developing commercial ties. So his early attention to the state was an obvious choice.
The nonprofit Istanbul Center also has been in Atlanta since 2002; another reason for the chamber, which shares space at the center in Midtown, for concentrating on Georgia.
Peter White has seen Atlanta strive to become an international cultural, business and educational center since he founded the Southern Center for International Studies in 1962.
During a dinner at the office of the Istanbul Center this month, he said that he had never seen any other international organization make as big an impact on Atlanta and the state in such a short time as the Turkish center.
It has hosted lectures by Turkish officials and scholars as well as by local officials. It also has organized visits to Turkey with diverse groups of students, teachers, university professors, local officials and businesspeople.
And it is reaching out to different communities throughout the Southeast to further its mission of establishing cultural, educational and political ties.
So it’s now time for the Turkish chamber to reach out as well. “I’m sort of a Southern guy,” Dr. Tascan told GlobalAtlanta showing his enthusiasm for the region as whole.
Prior to moving to Atlanta, he lived for nine years in Clemson, S.C., and earned a doctorate in textile fiber and polymer sciences from Clemson University.
Dr. Tascan was hired two years ago to become its executive director as both the U.S. and Turkish governments were encouraging the development of more commercial ties.
When President Obama met in Turkey last year with its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they agreed to a new strategic framework to seek mutually beneficial opportunities by promoting renewable energy, providing incentives for entrepreneurs, helping Istanbul become a global financial center and assisting small and medium-sized enterprises.
As the national leaders are coordinating bilateral commercial policies and encouraging partnerships between companies involved in energy, transportation, health care and construction, Dr. Tascan’s chamber has been working from the ground up.
In February, he led a delegation including Craig Lesser, former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development and a partner in the local consulting firm Pendleton Group, to five European countries.
“The concept was really unique,” Mr. Lesser told GlobalAtlanta. “We met with more than 300 Turkish businessmen and, as usual, they may have heard about our Olympics, or CNN, or UPS, but for the most part nobody know about our airport or our ports and had never considered doing business here.”
UNITEE, the United Turkish Enterprises and Business Professionals of Europe, which links companies owned by people of Turkish origin throughout Europe, organized the trip.
From Jan. 31-Feb. 9, Dr. Tascan and Mr. Lesser along with Tarik Celik, executive director of the Istanbul Center and advisory board chairman of the chamber, and Ufuk Levent, executive director of the chamber’s Tennessee branch, visited seven cities in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Dr. Tascan said that they now are preparing for representatives of the companies with whom they met to visit Atlanta for a matchmaking program with the purpose of strengthening a triangular relationship including Turkey, the Southeast and Europe.
More recently on Feb. 28, Dr. Tascan led a delegation including Mr. Celik and a group of businessmen to Chattangooga upon learning that Kordsa Global, which is owned by the Sabançi Group, a leading Turkish industrial and financial conglomerate, had a plant there.
Kordsa Global, a supplier of industrial nylon and polyster yarns and cord fabric, bought its Chattanooga operations form DuPont de Nemour & Co. in 2005.
During the visit, the delegation had lunch with Chattanooga’s mayor, Ron Littlefield, and businessmen hosted by local attorney Wendell O’Reilly.
After lunch the delegation met with Hamilton County officials and then at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce with Trevor Hamilton, vice president of economic development, and J. Steven Hiatt, director, existing business development.
With half a dozen foreign firms operating in Chattanooga and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. building an automotive production facility there, Dr. Tascan said that he anticipates returning with high-level representatives of Turkish companies.
Meanwhile, he is planning visits to Florida, which along with Georgia, is one of the six states with which the Turkish government has decided to promote commercial ties.