ATLANTA - From his office in downtown Atlanta, Terry Bell talks about the expansive opportunity Georgia companies have for selling raw materials in Asia.
"Right now, Japan is a wide-open market because there are so many different types of commodities that Japan needs," said Mr. Bell, an economic affairs officer for the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta, adding that the business potential works both ways. "A lot of governors go to Japan and try to get that next lucky manufacturing plant to come to the U.S."
Almost 7,000 miles away, Yumiko Nakazano sits in Tokyo, also with Georgia business on her mind.
Ms. Nakazano is one of several foreign trade officials hired by the state and based around the world to try and forge closer ties.
"We have worked for many years to introduce Japanese countries to the advantages of doing business in Georgia," Ms. Nakazano said via e-mail. "Our role has now expanded to include assistance to Georgia companies wishing to explore trade opportunities with Japan, as well as to promote Georgia as a tourist destination to the Japanese people."
In today's global economy, Georgia cities looking to attract new companies have to go beyond shaking hands around town.
"It's not enough to compete against your neighbors or your neighboring states," said Chris Clark, the state Department of Economic Development's deputy commissioner for global commerce. "Every deal we do now, you're in competition against other countries and multinational organizations."
That goal prompted state officials this year to reorganize the international trade division and expand the number of countries where the Peach State is represented.
Now with 10 foreign offices in place and more expected to open, Georgia's economic development agency eclipses the international trade presence of other states.
The department defends its overseas investment of $1 million a year as a small price compared to jobs that can be created or the export sales that can be expanded because of the contacts.
This year alone, the state announced it was opening a trade office in Chile and reopening one in Brazil.
The department also is working on an agreement to be represented in France through Georgia Tech professors working at the university's campus in the northern region of Lorraine.
"They're very interested in doing things with us," state Department of Economic Development Commissioner Craig Lesser said. "They're very interested in transfer in technology. And we did it without spending one additional taxpayer dollar."
Two of the foreign trade officers are state employees. The rest are contract workers.
Not all states have such a global portfolio.
Laurel Alpert, the division director for international trade for Colorado's Office of Economic Development, said her state has only one full-service trade office, which is in Mexico.
The state used to run an office in Europe but is now represented by a volunteer with ties to a Colorado law firm.
"We've had to make some cuts in the last few years because of our own state budget situation," Ms. Alpert said.
Georgia's trade activity warrants the far-reaching real estate, Mr. Clark said.
"The fact that we have Hartsfield (Jackson International Airport) and the busiest port on the East Coast gives us good reason for us to have the number of offices that we do," he said.
The department spends about $1 million annually on the international outposts with representatives' contracts, staff salaries, maintaining the offices and providing support for trade missions when the governor and businesses make visits.
But last year, a quarter of the state agency's new company announcements came from international firms, and Georgia's export levels increased 21 percent, outpacing the national average.
Some of that can be chalked up to work done from the international offices, Mr. Clark said.
He pointed to a German automotive and aerospace supplier, ae group, that announced this summer that it will move its first U.S. manufacturing operation and North American headquarters to Georgia. The move is expected to bring 300 jobs to the state in the coming years.
"I don't think we ever could have been in the hunt and convinced them if we didn't have the relationships that we had in Europe," Mr. Clark said. "We want Georgia to be a global player. It's the only way we're going to grow in the next 50 years."
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