Metro Atlanta’s path to more foreign exports could begin with survey

By David Pendered

The foreign export initiative underway in metro Atlanta begins with a simple question in an online survey that could help make the case for the deepening the Savannah harbor.

Georgia Pacific building

Georgia Pacific, which has its headquarters in downtown Atlanta, is a major customer of Georgia’s seaports. The 191 Peachtree Tower is in the background. Credit: CoStar

The question is, “Does your company currently export?” That is the starting point of a survey the Metro Atlanta Chamber intends to use to establish a game plan by mid 2014 to boost the region’s foreign exports. Chamber membership is not required to participate.

Metro Atlanta now is ranked 13th in the nation in terms of exports from the country’s 100 most-populated cities, according to a fresh report by the Global Cities Initiative. The report also shows metro Atlanta is losing ground to other regions in certain categories, even as Atlanta’s airport bustles with foreign travelers and the Savannah port project attracts a visit from Vice President Biden, as it did last week.

For all of metro Atlanta’s attention to exports and foreign direct investments, the region does not have a play-by-play strategy to boost exports.

Companies that do export hold their trade as tightly held secrets, according to Ric Hubler, senior director of global business growth at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

“A lot of companies don’t talk about what they’re exporting because they don’t want their competition to know what they’re doing, or they’re concerned about the privacy around it,” Hubler said.

Survey participants can maintain their privacy. At the end, respondents have a choice of providing contact information and agreeing to be contacted.

Questions include:

  • “Does your company have plans to export into a new country market;
  • “Does your company plan to expand operations and add employees in metro Atlanta in the next two years;
  • “What are the five most significant challenges that your company faces that prohibit you from exporting or growing your business?
  • “Does your company currently have locations outside the United States?
  • “Would you be willing to participate in a follow-up interview to share more of your export-related experiences and feedback;
  • “Do you wish to be entered into the weekly drawing for the two FREE passes to The CLUB at ATL Airport VIP Lounge (Value: $70)?

Hubler said the survey will continue through this year. Results will be used to devise a regional export strategy that is due to be unveiled in May or June of 2014.

“We will have a strategy as to the key players to identify resources, players, tools and services available, and a road map for companies that are trying to export or are new to export,” Hubler said.

“A critical piece for us is online services, IT royalties,” Hubler said. “Companies may say, ‘Exports aren’t for me.’ But in reality, if they’re selling to a client in Mexico or Canada or the EU or Asia, they are exporting.”

Metro Atlanta exported $25.5 billion in goods and services in 2012, according to the recent report from the Global Cities Initiative, which is a partnership of the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase.

An unrelated study by the University of Georgia provides a glimpse into the amount of that trade that’s shipped through the state ports in Savannah and Brunswick. This study was conducted in fiscal year 2011 and was released in 2012 by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at UGA’s Terry College of Business: “The Economic Impact of Georgia’s Deepwater Ports.”

Businesses in metro Atlanta exported $6.12 billion worth of goods in FY 2011, according to a snapshot of the study provided by the ports authority. Other highlights include:

  • “In the Atlanta region, 156,698 jobs are tied to the ports. Of those, 57,625 are in Fulton County, 24,538 in Cobb, 23,193 in Gwinnett and 22,660 in DeKalb. Atlanta area businesses shipped or received almost 165,000 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) in FY2011, for more than $8.6 billion in business. Of that, $6.12 billion were in exports. Top exports were poultry ($312.7 million), paper and paper board ($127.4 million) and kaolin clay ($50.28 million). The remainder of the port-related trade, or $2.51 billion, was in imports. Top imports were furniture ($132.4 million), auto and truck tires ($79.3 million) and air conditioners ($153.9 million).
  • “Fulton County industries did $4.1 billion in port business. Of that, $3.5 billion were in exports. Top three exports by volume were poultry at 21,743 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs); kaolin clay, 8,651 TEUs; and paper and paperboard, 5,304 TEUs. The remainder of the port-related trade, or $656.1 million, were in imports. Top three imports by volume were furniture, 6,139 TEUs; general cargo, 1,024 TEUs; and cement and concrete products, 550 TEUs. Top three port customers by volume in Fulton include AJC International, Imerys Clay and Georgia Pacific.
  • “Cobb County industries did $935.9 million in port business. Of that, $644.6 million were in exports. Top three exports by volume were paper and paperboard at 6,480 TEUs; poultry at 741 TEUs; and starch and chemicals at 533 TEUs. The remainder of the port-related trade, or $291.3 million, was in imports. Top three imports by volume were medical equipment and supplies, 508 TEUs; furniture, 421 TEUs; and bags, 338 TEUs. The top three port customers by volume in Cobb include Graphic Packaging International, Bal Shipping Line and USA Shipping.
  • “Gwinnett County industries did $1.56 billion in port business. Of that, $619.7 million were in exports. The top three exports by volume were logs and lumber at 560 TEUs; mixed metal scrap, 288 TEUs; and paper and paperboard, 238 TEUs. The remainder of the port-related trade, or $942.2 million, was in imports. Top three imports by volume were air conditioners, 2,707 TEUs; furniture, 1,845 TEUs; and auto parts, 1,440 TEUs. The top three port customers by volume in Gwinnett include Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics; Cheng Shin Rubber Industry and Kia.
  • “DeKalb County industries did $533.6 million in port business. Of that, $336 million were in exports. Top three exports by volume were poultry, at 1,862 TEUs; furniture, 550 TEUs; and grocery products, 181 TEUs. The remainder of the port-related trade, or $197.5 million, was in imports. Top three imports by volume were furniture, 1,541 TEUs; medical equipment and supplies, 394 TEUs; and synthetic resins and plastics, 299 TEUs. Top three port customers by volume in DeKalb include Meta Foods, Factory Direct Wholesale and Green Worldwide Shipping.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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