Another Year of Celebrating Business and Entrepreneurship

By Mary Moore, Founder and CEO, The Cook’s Warehouse

Mary Moore, Founder and CEO, The Cook’s Warehouse

Mary Moore, Founder and CEO, The Cook’s Warehouse

For 29 years, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) has celebrated business and entrepreneurship in our region at the annual Business Person of the Year Awards Luncheon. Partnering again this year with the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the June event brought together more than 450 attendees and highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of 15 metro Atlanta businesses. Atlanta’s key industry clusters were well represented at this year’s awards luncheon, ranging from mobile and biomedical devices to manufacturing and supply chain.

The Business Person of the Year (BPOTY) award recognizes a winner in each of three categories: early-stage entrepreneur (one to three years in business); emerging entrepreneur (three to seven years in business) and experienced entrepreneur (seven or more years in business).

The winners by category are:

  • Early-Stage Entrepreneur (1-3 years) – Anna Ruth Williams, CEO and Founder, AR|PR LLC
  • Emerging Entrepreneur (3-7 years) – Rahim Charania, CEO, American Fueling Systems
  • Experienced Entrepreneur (7+ years ) – Tom DiGregorio, President & Owner, AquaGuard Foundation Solutions

This year Arnie Silverman, president, Silverman Construction Program Management (Silverman CPM), was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for all of his hard work and dedication. Silverman CPM was founded 20 years ago to assist nonprofit organizations in metro Atlanta. Silverman CPM has been an invisible partner in numerous developments throughout the region, contributing useful information to enable construction projects in metro Atlanta. One of their most recent projects includes the development of Ponce City Market, which consists of a two-million square foot adaptive reuse of the historic Sears Roebuck & Co. building positioned on the Atlanta Beltline.

The Startups to Watch category showcases a unique group of entrepreneurs that were developed by students at our local universities. Although these companies are in their early stages of business, their unique and innovative ideas already have a positive effect on metro Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This year we recognized four “Startups to Watch”:

  • Advent Innovations, LLC – Regan Durkin, CEO; University of Georgia
  • Micron Biomedical – Mark Prausnitz, Co-Founder; Georgia Tech
  • Sparketh – Dwayne Walker, CEO; Kennesaw State University
  • U4gotUrBaby– Pulkit Bhatnagar, Co-Founder; Georgia State University

Congratulations to all the winners!

Watch the videos of all the BPOTY finalist:

Business Person of the Year 2015: How we got the winners

Business Person of the Year 2015: Early Stage Entrepreneurs, presented by Radiant3

Business Person of the Year 2015: Emerging Entrepreneurs, presented by Radiant3

Business Person of the Year 2015: Experienced Entrepreneurs, presented by Radiant3

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From Peach to Powerhouse: Georgia’s Health IT Scene

By Turner Taliaferro Smith, III, Psy.D., Vice President, Business Development, TeleHealth Solutions

Turner Taliaferro Smith, III, Psy.D., Vice President, Business Development, TeleHealth Solutions

Turner Taliaferro Smith, III, Psy.D., Vice President, Business Development, TeleHealth Solutions

The secret is out. Georgia has become a hotbed for health IT (HIT) companies, both veteran and startup. Georgia holds down the nation’s top spot with more than 225 HIT companies, nine of which have cumulative revenues of close to $5 billion. There are several reasons why.

Metro Atlanta ranks in the top five U.S. markets for total bandwidth and fiber access and two of the country’s largest fiber routes – north/south and east/west – cross in metro Atlanta. The region’s powerful technology grid will sustain health IT business expansion for decades to come.

Rapid job growth is another important factor. The growth in Georgia health IT is something for job seekers to get excited about. Georgia’s technology sector continues to be one of the most powerful job creators in the state with more than 4,000 net new jobs in 2014. Since 2010, Georgia has also added more than 25,000 new technology positions—over 272,000 IT jobs in five short years.

Health IT

“The health IT industry in Georgia is healthy and thriving as a result of the region’s robust infrastructure and the ongoing collaboration between our HIT corporations, academic institutions and healthcare providers,” says David Hartnett, vice president, economic development, Metro Atlanta Chamber. “Georgia also delivers a skilled workforce and pro-business environment that ensures a solid foundation to help small and mid-sized HIT companies continue to scale.”

A perfect example of a Georgia HIT company that continues to scale is McKesson. “Georgia has a unique combination of assets that are quite attractive for technology companies. In addition to a thriving service economy, the state has a strong educational system and an international travel hub in Atlanta, making for a great place to live and work. The growing number of technology companies has created a community that promotes innovation and best practices, which is highly valuable to McKesson as we continue to advance our business,” says Robert Hendricks, Chief Technology Officer, McKesson.

Fueling this progress and excitement is the annual Health IT Leadership Summit. The Health IT Leadership Summit was founded in 2010 by three organizations to support the growth of the health IT industry: the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development, Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. In its sixth year and hosted in Atlanta, the Summit brings together health IT leaders, job seekers and students for easy, one-day access to educational sessions, exhibits and networking. Click here for more details and early bird registration.

For more details about Georgia’s growing HIT scene, watch this video.

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A Chat with Two Business Person of the Year Winners

What happens when two entrepreneurs from different industries switch jobs for a day? Two of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Business Person of the Year winners, Ryan Turner, CEO and Co-Founder of Unsukay, and Jim Hall, CEO of Triatek, spent a day in each other’s shoes. The duo shares what they took away from the experience and the newfound appreciation they have for each other’s industries.

Do you have what it takes to become one a Business Person of the Year? Apply here today!

 

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Volunteers Play a Big Role in Helping Students Succeed in Project for a Day

By Melanie Platt and Caitlin Sims

Recently more than 300 Atlanta business and community leaders visited various Atlanta Public Schools (APS) to participate in Project For A Day (PFAD), held on Nov. 6. Project For A Day is an annual event in which volunteers from the business, civic and nonprofit communities volunteer their time on a designated project, and make a tangible impact in the lives of students.

Professionals from multiple organizations spent the morning participating in hands-on, student-focused activities at APS schools. Afterward, the volunteers were among an audience of approximately 600, including APS principals, at the celebratory luncheon at the Omni Hotel to honor student and volunteer efforts.

Project For A Day is sponsored by the Atlanta Partners for Education (APFE), a 33-year-old joint venture between the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Atlanta Public Schools.

AGL Resources was one of the Atlanta-area businesses that participated in Project For A Day by volunteering at Parkside Elementary School. But AGL’s volunteerism goes beyond one day; AGL employees have been volunteering at Parkside for more than a decade.

Parkside Principal Caitlin Sims and AGL Resources Foundation President Melanie Platt share their perspectives on how this partnership benefits the students and volunteers.

Tell us about the school-business partnership between AGL Resources and Parkside Elementary.

Melanie Platt Executive Vice President, Chief People Officer and President, AGL Resources Foundation

Melanie Platt
Executive Vice President, Chief People Officer and
President, AGL Resources Foundation

At AGL Resources, we believe the path to social mobility and enhanced opportunities includes education and career readiness. Simply put, education is a gateway to everything good in life, so it is very important to us that we support students in their educational aspirations.

The AGL Resources and Parkside Elementary partnership is now in its 11th year, and over the course of that time, we’ve seen it strengthen, thanks in large part to the leadership at the school and the enthusiasm of our employees.  It is really a win-win relationship – we’re offering a rewarding volunteer experience to our employees while contributing to the growth and development of the students.

 Why do you think it’s important for your employees to volunteer in the schools?

One of our corporate shared values is Generosity of Spirit – we give back to the communities where we live and serve.  Our employees truly take this value to heart, donating tens of thousands of hours each year to communities across our footprint. Volunteer activities are as diverse as our workforce, and the volunteer experiences at Parkside are some of our most popular.  Whether creating enthusiasm for reading or promoting careers in energy during College and Career Week, our employee volunteers are a positive presence at Parkside and enhance the traditional classroom learning experience. By promoting a love of learning and showing the possibilities that come from a good education, I wholeheartedly believe we’re building a brighter future for individuals, families and communities.

What types of activities have you completed with the students at Parkside?

Over the course of the school year, our employee volunteers have several opportunities to get involved at Parkside. Whether they choose to join the annual PFAD events sponsored by the Atlanta Partners for Education, serve as judges for the Academic Science Fair, or lead Junior Achievement in a Day sessions, our volunteers are helping to prepare Parkside students for success in life. And of course, by participating in College and Career Week, we want to encourage students to consider higher education as a next step – maybe even a career in energy!

But our involvement extends beyond the classroom. During the holidays, we are honored to welcome Parkside students to our corporate headquarters where they treat our employees to rounds of spirited songs of the season, and we, in turn, treat them to goodwill and refreshments. And our employees demonstrate our Company’s value of Generosity of Spirit by supporting students and families in need through our annual Parkside Angel Tree.

AGL Volunteers at Project For A Day:

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Caitlin Sims Principal, Parkside Elementary School

Caitlin Sims
Principal, Parkside Elementary School

Q: Tell us about the partnership.

I am very proud of and grateful for the 11-year partnership between Parkside Elementary School and AGL Resources. The AGL team has done an extraordinary job of being a committed corporate partner to our school. The company brings in multiple volunteers throughout the year to talk to our students. We just hosted College and Career Week, which is a major initiative within the Atlanta Public Schools, to educate our students about different options for college and career pathways. AGL brought representatives from different departments – from meter readers and finance to HR and corporate executives – to talk about their careers.

 Q: What are some activities the AGL volunteers participate in at the school?

Reading is a big activity and very key for our students. During the Project For A Day event, the AGL volunteers came and read books to different classes.

During the recent College and Career Week, the AGL volunteers passed out drawstring knapsacks to all the kids so they could create their “bag of dreams” by drawing their visions for their career dreams on one side and college dreams on the other.

During the holidays, we take our choral students to the AGL offices and sing holiday carols. This is a nice treat for the employees and a great learning experience for the students, as they get to see a major company from the inside, visit different floors, and see the executive offices. It’s a great opportunity for exposure to the corporate world.

Each year before school starts, I meet with the core volunteer team in the summer and we map out our goals for the year and what we want to get out of the partnership. The team at AGL is very fluid and flexible; they ask what our needs are and how they can help. We develop an action plan together.

Over the years, the AGL volunteers have also contributed tin other ways, serving as judges for our science fair, providing mentoring and tutoring services and providing incentive prizes for students who reached attendance goals. They have been very involved throughout the 11-year partnership.

Q: What are the benefits you see in the students from this partnership and the involvement of AGL volunteers?

It makes such a big difference for the students to see and hear real people talking about their jobs and offer a very direct connection to the “real world.” The AGL volunteers always emphasize the importance of education in each of their visits, and show the students how they connect to a bigger community.

We talk about creating global citizens and graduates who are ready for the challenges of the 21st century – it’s thrilling for the students to have guest readers and guest speakers who can share some of their wisdom and insight. The College and Career Readiness piece is so critical, and it’s fantastic to have a partner that directly supports this is initiative.

The most important thing about the partnership is AGL’s genuine interest in keeping the partnership focused on the needs of the school and the students. That makes it rewarding on both sides. They really care about what will help the students succeed. I am grateful that AGL Resources gives its employees the time to volunteer at Parkside. The students always light up when they see the volunteers at school, reading to them in their classes or talking about their careers. Their involvement has been invaluable.

APFE has been serving the students of APS since 1981 by providing opportunities for the Atlanta business community to become involved in public education to gain a deeper understanding of how they can make a positive difference in students’ lives. The partnership also allows schools to hear from businesses about the job skills needed in the future workforce. For more information, visit http://www.atlantapartnersforeducation.org/

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Interns are Vital to Atlanta’s Wireless Mobility Sector

By Jonathan LeCompte, president – Georgia/Alabama Region, Verizon Wireless

By Jonathan LeCompte, president – Georgia/Alabama Region, Verizon Wireless

Atlanta’s growing wireless mobility sector has become a hub for industry innovation and growth. To keep driving that momentum we are tapping into an important resource for talent: interns.

Employers like Verizon seek value in an intern’s fresh perspective and the vital skill set these technology natives possess. Internships have been a vital recruitment method for many companies in the mobility sphere. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, approximately 77 percent of companies primarily use internship programs to recruit entry-level talent. In today’s job market, internships have evolved into an extended interview process that evaluates an individual’s work ethic, skill level and cultural fit before incurring the expense of a full-time hire.

It makes perfect sense from a business perspective. Approximately 50 percent of internships and co-ops will convert to full-time hires, which is great for sourcing talent. Of those interns that converted to full-time hires, 57 percent are still with the company after five years, which translates into a low turn-over rate.

In an effort to satisfy the demand for new talent in Atlanta’s growing mobile technology industry, Verizon Wireless partnered with our city’s biggest mobility event, Mobility LIVE!, in 2013 to host an intern summit where mobility companies connected with students from Metro Atlanta’s universities. Companies ranged from the big players to new startups and included Verizon, AT&T, The Weather Channel, Star Mobile, Catavolt, WNA and more.  The intern summit was so successful that we did it again in 2014, drawing a 60 percent increase in student attendance.

At this year’s event, Verizon Wireless’ own Morgan Henry shared insights gained as an intern with our company for three summers during her time at Howard University. Her experience was more than a stepping stone – it was a catapult into a challenging and rewarding career. Morgan has now been with Verizon for four years, and has held several different positions within our marketing organization, gaining invaluable experience along the way.

Why are events like this one vital for all parties involved? Connecting with students while they are still in school allows employers to hone in on talents and aid in connecting class lessons to the real world. By showing a student where native-technological skills and business collide, we are generating awareness about opportunities in mobile technology he or she may have not been exposed to previously. Additionally, not only are internships mutually beneficial for both the intern and the employer, but also for Metro Atlanta. By embracing young talent, we are creating a better quality talent pool for the entire region. If we keep that talent in Metro Atlanta, we can help make Atlanta the global leader in mobile innovation.

I invite you to join companies like Verizon Wireless, The Coca-Cola Company, How Stuff Works, BlueFletch, The Home Depot and more who are foraging Metro Atlanta’s universities looking for the expertise that will revolutionize the next era of mobility.

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For Job Growth, A Thriving Startup Community is Essential

By Blake Patton Managing Partner, Tech Square Ventures

By Blake Patton,
Managing Partner, Tech Square Ventures

Entrepreneurs building technology startups need more than an idea and a great team. Unless you have deep pockets or wealthy relatives, chances are you will require outside investment to turn your passion into a high-growth success.

That’s where venture capital comes in. VC firms are professional managers of risk capital that fund new innovations by investing in promising early-stage companies. These companies aren’t at the stage where it’s possible to secure traditional bank loans or raise money in the public markets.

Compared to other technology hotbeds like California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas, access to capital is a critical challenge for Georgia’s tech entrepreneurs.  The state’s share of national venture capital investments in 2013 was only one percent, while the entire Southeast saw just three percent of those dollars. Georgia also trails Virginia and North Carolina in seed and early stage investments.

The lack of capital is not just a problem for entrepreneurs. It affects all Georgians because when it comes to job growth, startups are everything. A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation highlighted the fact that since 1977, most net new jobs in the United States are created by startups. Improving access to capital is critical for keeping our best and brightest entrepreneurs from leaving the state to find the financing they need.

The funding shortage in Georgia is a big opportunity for early-stage venture capital and angel investors. The current level of investment in the state does not match the level of entrepreneurial activity and innovation coming out of our startups and research universities. For local investors, finding deal flow is easier and less competitive here than in other parts of the country.  This is why I started Tech Square Ventures, a seed and early-stage fund investing in technology startups. We’re putting our money to work right here in Atlanta and across the Southeast.

Investors outside the region are beginning to take notice, as well. Atlanta startups Ionic Security and Pindrop Security both recently raised money from iconic Silicon Valley venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

And last week, Atlanta tech startup hopefuls got their chance.

On Oct. 21-22, a full house of local entrepreneurs gathered at the Georgia Aquarium to “swim with the sharks” at Venture Atlanta, the premier technology conference in the Southeast that connects entrepreneurs with the capital they need to grow their business.  At the event, 33 local and regional startups presented to more than 125 investors from across the country in hopes of attracting the funding they need to propel them to success.

Atlanta has all the key ingredients for a thriving technology startup ecosystem: talented innovators, world-class research universities and a history of startup success. We have a strong base of FORTUNE 1000 companies here, which makes it a great place for entrepreneurs to find early customers and connect with industry executives for networking and mentoring. But, it also takes capital to fuel that ecosystem, and Venture Atlanta is doing its part.

When local startups succeed, we all win.

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Calling All Former Boys & Girls Club Kids & Alumni – Share Stories through New Mobile Apps

Charles Holt

Charles Holt

By Vernon Rose, National Director of Affinity Markets, Boys & Girls Club of America

Meet Charles Holt. Actor. Story-teller. Producer. Author. And former Boys & Girls Club kid. In fact, he’s one of 16 million former Club kids. And we need to reach every one of these alumni in order to build a great future for today’s kids. Every Club alum has a unique story to encourage children today. The challenge for Boys & Girls Clubs? This potential army of former Club kids is nearly invisible.

In the spring of 2014, Charles stepped up for Boys & Girls Clubs of America and offered to help Club kids.  This generous offer stemmed from his childhood experiences as a Club kid in Nashville, Tenn. Charles will soon visit Club kids across America, utilizing his unique storytelling and life experiences to share his story of how he unlocked his own inner voice and found his life’s purpose.

Through the creation of new apps developed by the teams of the Mobility LIVE! Hack-Back Invitational, BGCA hopes to soon have the unique opportunity to capture the attention, volunteerism and stories of millions of former Club kids like Charles.

The Mobility Live Hack-Back Invitational is a unique event created by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), whereby teams of hackers were invited to develop mobility solutions for national based nonprofits in a monthlong competition for cash and prizes. The 2014 program was held in conjunction with the 2014 Mobility LIVE! Conference in Atlanta in partnership with the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Teams of programmers, developers and coders were invited to compete in the event while helping to give (hack) back to three of the nation’s leading nonprofit organizations – including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which is based in Atlanta.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America logoAs BGCA Club alumni range from age 18 to 80-plus, we are continuously challenged to seek affordable outlets to maintain visibility. The Hack-Back Invitational helped us with a solution to create access that our alumni and parents have never enjoyed before.

As part of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Great Futures Campaign, engaging the 16 million alumni is a cornerstone of our efforts to build a great future for today’s kids. Many face challenges not known in earlier generations.

 

  • The American dream is likely unattainable for the majority of kids today. Our nation’s state of poor academic performance, obesity, drug use and youth-related violence are cause for alarm and national action.
  • Every day, 15 million kids leave school unsupervised, with no place to go. That’s more than a quarter of America’s kids left unguided and potentially unsafe after school.
  • In the summer, some 43 million (3 out of 4) kids lack access to summer learning programs, increasing their risk of significant learning loss and falling off track to graduate from high school.

Our vision is ambitious: to assure success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all Club members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle. We are excited about the launch of this new app to support our vision by engaging Club alumni to share their stories and to inspire parents with the living proof of alumni like Charles Holt.

“I challenge my fellow Club kids to join me in supporting the futures of Club kids today,” says Charles in issuing his call to action. “Igniting our energy, effort and care for the benefit of these children will be transformational, both for us and for kids!”

To learn more about the Great Futures campaign, visit www.greatfutures.org

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Inaugural year of Cleantech Open Programming Raises Profile for Atlanta’s Clean Tech Strengths

by Matthew Patterson, Director of Supply Chain & Advanced Manufacturing, Metro Atlanta Chamber

by Matthew Patterson, Director of Supply Chain & Advanced Manufacturing, Metro Atlanta Chamber

We’re known as “the city built in a forest,” and our clean tech economy is reminiscent of that nickname.

Clean tech is a broad industry that includes numerous sectors.  Metro Atlanta is especially strong in the cleantech sectors of energy efficiency —  recycling and solid waste, smart grid, clean technology services, and recycled products/materials. Metro Atlanta is a leader in the clean tech industry among U.S. metro areas, with more than 30,000 people working in a variety of clean tech and sustainability jobs, according to The Brookings Institution’s Sizing the Clean Economy study released July 2011. The study found that Atlanta – the seventh largest metro clean economy in the country – is well positioned to be a major hub in a variety of clean activities, and is the most diverse metropolitan area clean economy in the nation.

Cleantech Open, a not-for-profit organization based in Pala Alto, California, runs the world’s largest accelerator for clean tech startups. Its mission is to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges.

Cleantech Open has several regional branches, including one in the southeastern United States.

Referred to as Cleantech Open Southeast, the program seeks to feed and boost the existing startup ecosystem within the region and is one of the largest hubs in the Cleantech Open. CTO Southeast accepts applicants between January and May of each program year and a preliminary judging round determines the Semi-Finalist Team who will participate in the national Cleantech Open accelerator program. Semi-Finalist companies have an opportunity to compete for regional prizes upwards of $20k and national prizes upwards of $200k.

In 2014, CTO Southeast expanded its regional presence in Atlanta and approached the Metro Atlanta Chamber about partnering on a few events to raise visibility for the program among fast-growing clean tech companies and startups. Cleantech Open Southeast has already hosted two events in Atlanta with The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Cleantech Leadership Council and Thompson & Hine LLC.

This week, Cleantech Open and GE Digital Energy will host its Mock Judging Event in preparation of the Southeast Regional Innovation Summit on Oct. 22-23 in Alexandria, Va. Sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Clean Tech Leadership Council, GE Digital Energy and Thompson Hine, LLC, the Mock Judging event in Atlanta will bring several clean tech companies from around the southeast to Atlanta.  The companies, who are semifinalists in the 2014 national Cleantech Open Accellerator contest, will present business models and products before a select group of C-level executives representing large corporate firms in Atlanta.  This will give the startups the opportunity to fine-tune presentation and business skills prior to the summit.

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Mobility LIVE! coming September 23-24!

Atlanta’s mobility ecosystem is flourishing with vast growth opportunities in the digital product and service space. For two days, Mobility LIVE! will bring together key thought leaders and decision makers in the areas of mobile technology standards, strategies and innovations. Join Mobility LIVE! to tap into the mobile industry and learn how to leverage the power of mobility through interactive programs. This year, Mobility LIVE! we bill co-located with GSMA Mobile 360 – North America. Atlanta will host GSMA Mobile 360’s first-ever event in North America, reinforcing Atlanta’s stance as a hub for mobility. Watch this video to learn more about the innovation happening in our city.  To register for Mobility LIVE!, please visit here.

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Why Exports should be in your daily vocabulary

by Ric Hubler, senior director, global business growth, Metro Atlanta Chamber

by Ric Hubler, senior director, global business growth, Metro Atlanta Chamber

There is no question that Atlanta ranks among America’s leading metropolitan areas: Metro Atlanta has the 3rd largest concentration of FORTUNE 500 headquarters; it is the 9th largest population center; it is the 10th largest economy by gross metro product (GMP); and it is 13th when it comes to exports. For good reason Atlanta has emerged as the economic heart of the Southeast and a gateway for companies going global.  When you consider our competitive assets – our airport, our universities, our diverse population, and our highways and railroads – it is easy to see why companies choose to do business in Atlanta.

Whether you are moving people, products, or information, Atlanta has become the place to do it. We enjoy direct access to 150 domestic destinations and more than 60 international destinations from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  We have incredible connections with Savannah, the nation’s 4th largest container port. And as a testament to the wired nature of our city, 3 out of every 4 electronic payments in the U.S. are processed in Atlanta.  Our companies have all the resources to be truly international.  However, despite all the rankings and competitive assets, Atlanta is under exporting.  The reality is we rank 75th out of the Top 100 when it comes to export intensity (9.5 percent) – exports as a percentage of our economy – putting us below the national average (13.2 percent).  But why should we worry about export intensity? We exported $25.5B in goods and services in 2012, and #13 in the nation isn’t bad.

The truth is we should care about export intensity; it isn’t just another economic statistic on a page.  In today’s global economy, it tells a compelling story about Atlanta.  With 83% of global economic growth projected to occur outside the U.S. by 2018, 95 percent of the world’s consumers already located outside the U.S., and global middle class consumption projected to reach $35 trillion – with a “T” – by 2020, the opportunities for growth are increasingly outside the U.S.  So what does our export intensity tell us? Unfortunately, it indicates that our industries in metro Atlanta are not taking advantage of global opportunities.

Exports are critical to the strength and growth of our local economy.  By selling competitive products and services to meet growing global demand, our companies find opportunities to grow their business and benefit our local economy with more revenue and job growth. And more Atlanta companies are capable of exporting than you may realize.  While most people think of exports as only manufactured goods, much of Atlanta’s exports come from services in sectors, such as architecture & design, consulting, engineering, franchising, legal & accounting, software, and travel & tourism.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that each $1B in exports supports 5,590 American jobs.  Plus, exporters tend to pay 10 – 20 percent higher wages than their domestic-focused counterparts.  Furthermore, exporting companies help to connect Atlanta with the world, making us a more globally engaged and economically robust region. With reasons like these, we all should want more of our local companies to export more.

Still, less than 5% of U.S. firms actually export, and almost 60% of those firms sell to only one foreign market.  So what keeps companies from exporting?

Numerous surveys have shown that many U.S. companies simply view exporting as too difficult, scary, or risky.  When you have a domestic market of 300 million consumers, a solid legal system, world-class logistics infrastructure, and a stable financial system, most executives, particularly from small and medium businesses, would ask why they should venture outside the U.S. and take on the risk of exporting.  It is a valid question, and it is one we hear more and more each day.

The good thing is I can point to Atlanta companies rising to the challenge every day. For instance, in the architecture & design sector, where the domestic market collapsed after 2008, we’ve seen local firms such as tvsdesign and GreenbergFarrow pursue and land deals in China and other markets after participating in trade missions with mayors and MAC.  These firms show that exporting is manageable, and the risks can be mitigated.  In addition, their stories demonstrate how diversifying their business through exports helps to make their companies stronger.

I recently traveled with our Global Commerce team to D.C. to receive the President’s “E” Award for Export Service from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.  MAC was one of 66 organizations to receive the award this year, along with local partners Global Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.  The mood was optimistic, and everyone appreciated our efforts to promote exports and engage more companies in the process.  One cornerstone of why we received the award was our work with our regional partners on the Atlanta Metro Export Plan (MEP). The MEP is a truly metro initiative to engage more companies to get into exporting.  One MEP focus is to establish an export culture and an export ecosystem in Atlanta that will make it easier and more common, especially for small and medium companies, to: 1) begin exporting, and/or 2) increase existing exports. After all, when our companies increase exports, we all win.

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