Metro Atlanta’s planned export strategy could sharpen strong existing trade programs

By David Pendered

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to have the city lead the creation of a regional export strategy by this summer aims to maintain metro Atlanta’s standing among the world’s competitive alpha trade centers.

Smoothing porcelain

Workers at a Toto U.S.A. manufacturing plant in Atlanta craft personal sanitary items that will be shipped to dealers throughout the Americas. File/Credit: Donita Pendered

The end result is to be a stronger regional economy. Ancillary benefits would include cultural and other aspects of metro life.

Georgia already has achieved measurable gains in its international status, according to an intriguing 2012 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that hasn’t received much local attention.

Georgia now ranks seventh in the nation among export states, and 10th as an entrepreneurship and innovation state, the U.S. Chamber determined in its report, “Enterprising States: Policies that Produce.”

The idea Reed espoused is for the Atlanta Metropolitan Export Plan to be led by Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, and the mayor’s Office of International Affairs. The Brookings Institution is to provide support through its Metropolitan Policy Program.

According to a statement from the mayor’s office: “Over the next several months, the city of Atlanta will assess market opportunities and business needs, develop strategies, and begin to implement improvements, with significant private and public sector support.”

A steering committee is to be chaired by someone from UPS and filled with unspecified representatives of the business sector, academia, and local governments.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified these high-tech growth sectors. Credit: "Enterprising States: Policies that Produce"

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified these high-tech growth sectors. Credit: “Enterprising States: Policies that Produce”

Core partners are to include the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, state Department of Economic Development, and the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center.

The statement from the mayor’s office highlights the strength of the region’s existing international trade platform. According to the statement, which was not sourced:

  • “Atlanta is the nation’s 13th largest metro exporter, sending $20 billion in goods and services abroad in 2010 and supporting more than 150,000 jobs through the metro area. Services make up 53 percent of exports, larger than the national share of 33 percent. Manufacturing contributes about 47 percent of the exports.”

This vibrant sector exists in a state that ranks in the top 10 for export and innovation, according to the report by the U.S. Chamber.

Incidentally, the U.S. Chamber’s report was prepared by Praxis Strategy Group and urban theorist Joel Kotkin. Kotkin was the subject of a recent story in

The synopsis of the chamber’s report of Georgia as an exporter says, on page 15:

  • “The Peach State finishes in the top 25 in all four exporting measurements, but is growing its share of the nation’s total exports faster than all but four other states. Georgia exported $5 billion in civilian aircraft, engines, and parts in 2011, up 63 percent from 2008. Over the same time period, Georgia’s exports of automobiles tripled to 917 million in 2011. Other major products include wood pulp, gas turbines, and frozen chicken.”

The synopsis of Georgia as a hub of entrepreneurship and innovation says, on page 18:

  • “Georgia has seen significant entrepreneurial activity in recent years, ranking 10th in business starts and 14th in entrepreneurial activity. The state is the ninth-most-concentrated high-tech business environment in the nation, due to its high concentrations in computer facilities management, software, custom programming and systems design.”

Reed intends for the city, and its partners, to devise an export strategy for the entire region.

The exact boundaries of the region weren’t identified, but may extend farther east than ever before – to encompass the manufacturing plants under construction by Caterpillar, Inc. and Baxter along the I-20 corridor.

Caterpillar’s plant near Athens will provide small bulldozer-type machines. Baxter’s facility near Covington will produce biologic medicines including immunoglobulin therapies.

In announcing the plan to formulate an export policy, Reed said: “It will put the city of Atlanta in a stronger position to grow into a center for advanced production and services, and guide us in taking strategic steps to leverage our global assets.”


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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