By Jorge Fernandez,
Vice President, Global Commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber
This week (March 23-31), Metro Atlanta Chamber leaders embarked on a trade mission to China with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, leaders from Invest Atlanta and more than 20 Atlanta companies seeking to learn how to do business in China.
Since the Metro Atlanta Chamber embarked on its global outreach mission, by creating a Global Commerce Council, China has been the priority for us. In fact, our very first trip as a new global commerce department at the Chamber was to take then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin in a very successful trip to China.
Here we are six years later, and now we are taking Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, her successor, on a similar trip.
Over these last six years we have partnered with a host or organizations to market Atlanta in this important market for the purpose of introducing our region to Chinese companies that are encouraged to go global, and to find opportunities for Atlanta-based companies in a market with the highest growth of its middle class.
Atlanta has been going to China not just through Metro Atlanta Chamber, but with our partners the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Invest Atlanta, Gwinnett County, Sandy Springs and others collectively, two or three times a year, every year. This is a collective and collaborative effort to raise awareness of the region in the market.
Georgia’s second biggest trade partner is China, where we have seen year-over-year growth at the rate of 33 percent.
More than 20 Chinese companies now call Atlanta home, including SANY America, Hisense USA Corp. and Techtop Industries Inc. Our continuous presence in China is extremely important because we are living in a highly competitive global economy. In Georgia, there are more than 170,000 jobs directly related to foreign companies, so doing business in China, and internationally, is very important to Atlanta’s economy.
Exports represent 8 percent of Metro Atlanta’s GDP and more than 150,000 export-supported jobs. In a global economy, companies are indirectly and directly impacted by the global economy, whether they are actively pursuing international business operations or not.
The bottom line is that Georgia depends on world markets.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber feels strongly that this trip to China represents an unprecedented opportunity for the companies that are participating. One of the goals of the trip is to boost the efforts of mid-sized companies to export their products to China. There is untapped need for goods and services in the market. This trip can provide key links and connections to make this goal achievable.
The cities selected for this trip were carefully and deliberately chosen because of real-time opportunities that exist there and because of their synergies with Atlanta’s economy.
The strength of China’s economy is vast. There are opportunities for an array of industries, including architecture, engineering, green building, professional services, medical equipment, transportation, energy and education.
China has a very rapidly expanding middle class – that’s what’s helping to generate the opportunities we are seeing. There is greater demand for products from a middle class that wants the best.
This growth phenomenon also means that as Chinese companies grow, they are looking for opportunities not only in China, but overseas, and the U.S. market is the largest market in the world. That is where they want to be to grow.
The success of this trip is measured in several ways, including foreign direct investment (FDI). By finding the right leads, we can work to develop them into projects that eventually become jobs in Georgia and Atlanta.
There is also the success that comes from building trade relations. The companies going on this trip will begin to understand the reality of doing business in China and come back with a better view and understanding of the Chinese market overall, which will lead to ways to grow their business back home.
Then there is the prospect of marketing Atlanta. We are in a very competitive world and there is a constant need through every means possible to ensure that Atlanta remains in the minds of Chinese companies that are assessing the U.S. market. We meet that need through visits, meetings, receiving delegations here, writing articles, meeting with the media and engaging social media.
This trip, and the cities selected to visit – Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen – all are experiencing growth.
Guangzhou, the third largest city in China measured by total consumption by its population, boasts a growth model on consumption that China is trying to replicate in the rest of the country. Hangzhou, according to Forbes magazine, is ranked as a top commercial city in China’s mainland. Meanwhile, Nanjing is similar to Atlanta in that it is one of the most important inland transportation hubs for the country.
Our mission trip to these cities complements the great job that the state’s office in China does. This also builds on the work done during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the work done by Atlanta giants who have found success in China, including The Home Depot, The Coca-Cola Co. and The Portman Companies.
As China continues to evolve and adapt to it economic challenges, China will continue to look externally for growth and find solutions to the needs of its middle class. These trips help develop those solutions.