By Maria Saporta
In 2007, Atlanta launched the Americas Competitiveness Forum as a way to increase trade between North, Central and South Americas.
As a testament to continuity, Atlanta hosted the fourth annual Competitiveness Forum last Sunday to Tuesday attracting more than 500 dignitaries from countries throughout the Americas.
The forum has been able to survive from President George W. Bush’s administration through President Barack Obama’s administration; from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration through Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke acknowledged Atlanta’s unique role with the forum.
“Atlanta has hosted three of the four forums,” Locke said. “We are especially pleased to have with us so many ministers, ambassadors and consuls here.”
He then recognized the president of El Salvador as well as the vice president of Colombia who were attending the forum.
“There are a myriad of problems we all face, a global economic recession, major disparities in wealth and access to health care,” Locke said. “We need to work together to unlock our full potential — a world that is safer and more prosperous for our children.”
It was a sentiment shared by Mayor Reed.
“Our involvement with this conference has made the City of Atlanta stronger,” Reed said. “As the world begins to regain its bearings from an international recession, when we are done getting through these tough economic times, all of us will be more tested.”
Atlanta has a central position with the Americas Competitiveness Forum because of the presence of CIFAL, which is part of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. The institute based the International Training Centers for Local Authorities (CIFAL) in Atlanta.
That’s why Atlanta hosted the first two Americas Forums as well as the fourth one.
“Last year, it was in Santiago, Chile,” said José Ignacio Gonzales, executive chairman of CIFAL Atlanta. Franklin, who would attend the entire conference when she was mayor, actually participated in the Santiago forum.
This year, Reed was present Sunday evening and part of Monday. But then he flew to England for a meeting with Prince Charles.
Now it could be awhile before the Americas Competitiveness Forum returns to Atlanta because of strong demand from other cities in the Americas.
Gonzales said that the forum will be in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 2011. It will be in Cali, Colombia in 2012; and Panama has announced its candidacy to host the convention in 2013.
“”Atlanta was the incubator,” Gonzales said. And because CIFAL Atlanta is a sponsor of the forum Atlanta will continue to have a unique relationship with the annual event.
But it is a relationship that will need to be nurtured by the region’s leaders in their quest of making Atlanta a gateway to the Americas.