Colombia open for business; Atlantans confront world cyberthreats

Moderated by Rick Badie

Colombia has often been associated with violence, crime and drug cartels. Today, though, the country sits poised to expand its global reach to Georgia and beyond thanks to social, political and economic reforms, says its ambassador to the United States. In another essay, Metro Atlanta Chamber executives write about the region’s role thwarting cybersecurity threats and local participation in an upcoming conference on the topic in Israel.

Colombia: Open for business

By Luis Carlo Villegas

What do Delta Air Lines, UPS Supply Chain Solutions and Newell Rubbermaid Inc. have in common? They are just a few of the Georgia companies doing business in Colombia.

Years ago, Colombia was perceived as being synonymous with violence, crime and drug cartels. This is not the case today. Because of progressive social, economic and political reforms in the last decade, Colombia has transformed remarkably. Security and stability have been restored, and our economy is thriving and growing. The Colombia of today is a new Colombia, and it’s open for business.

In 2014, more than 4 million international visitors traveled to Colombia, as the country has become one of Latin America’s hottest tourist destinations. That was unimaginable just two decades ago. From its beautiful beaches to the Amazon to its bustling cities, the number of foreign tourists increased at a rate four times higher than the world average.

The United States played an important role in Colombia’s transformation and was a key ally as we worked to improve the lives of the Colombian people. Our partnership remains strong. Today, our two countries work together on issues beyond security and drug interdiction, including cooperating on innovation and technology, energy and education, promoting shared democratic values in the region, and aiding other countries in need.

These efforts and reforms have positioned Colombia for lasting peace and prosperity. We are now not only a regional leader, but a global leader with a dynamic economy and progressive agenda aimed at boosting growth, national unity and social development. Just look at the facts.

In recent years, while other countries’ economies were steadily declining, Colombia’s GDP grew at an average rate of nearly 5 percent. We also have one of the highest job-creation rates in the region. The combination of growth and our social programs has reduced poverty and inequality significantly. Nearly 4 million Colombians have been lifted out of poverty — 2 million out of extreme poverty — in the last four years.In 2010, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration launched Plan Vive Digital to increase Internet usage and expand broadband connectivity to help reduce poverty and create jobs. This initiative has already seen results. Internet broadband connections increased from 2.2 million to 8.8 million, and small businesses Internet usage increased from 7 to 60 percent.

Colombia is integrating its economy on a global scale. In partnership with Chile, Mexico and Peru, we formed the Pacific Alliance – an integrated market of 210 million consumers and a GDP of nearly $2 trillion – to expand regional trade and investment.

Additionally, thanks to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement implemented in May 2012, the relationship between the United States and Colombia is stronger than ever before and affords Georgia exporters new opportunities in our market.

The Colombia-Georgia relationship is important. Colombia is Georgia’s second-largest export market in Latin America. Exports to Colombia totaled $338 million in 2013.

According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, as of 2012, there were about 14 Georgia companies operating in Colombia and three Colombian facilities with operations in Georgia. Daily direct flights from Atlanta to Bogotá are offered by Delta Air Lines. In addition, the 2010 Census counted more than 26,000 Georgia residents with Colombian heritage.

Colombia and Georgia should continue to work together to expand our business and investment, as well as our people-to-people ties. Opportunities to strengthen our economic relations are unlimited. We want Georgia and the city of Atlanta to know Colombia is open for business.

Luis Carlos Villegas is the Colombian ambassador to the United States.

Atlanta’s key cybersecurity role

By Jorge Fernandez and Justin Daniels

Recent headlines contain a steady stream of bad news from the latest data breaches: Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer and parent company of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Georgia, just suffered a massive data breach. As many as 80 million customers may have had their account information stolen with their Social Security numbers.

The Target and Home Depot breaches resulted in major financial concerns for retailers and consumers. Meanwhile, the Sony breach demonstrated the ramifications of state-sponsored cyber terrorism on our national security. Cyber hacking has evolved from kids just having fun to sophisticated criminals who hack for profit or industrial espionage. This evolution makes cybersecurity the most important issue in technology today.

Cybersecurity and enhancing cyberdefense hit close to home. Georgia is among the top three states in the nation for information security, according to the Technology Association of Georgia’s “Where Georgia Leads” report.

The state is home to more than 115 information security companies. Georgia companies employ more than 10,000 network and computer systems engineers. Software and IT services represent 27 percent of Georgia’s tech employment sector. The U.S. Army Cyber Command Center is also located in Georgia.

Metro Atlanta has several core assets to support the cybersecurity ecosystem. The region is home to prominent cybersecurity companies, such as AirWatch by VMware, which provides enterprise software to allow businesses to securely manage mobile data; Ionic Security, which provides enterprise data security solutions; and Pindrop Security, which focuses on stopping phone fraudsters who prey on call centers and banks. The region also features a strong IT workforce, thriving start-up community and top-tier higher education system.

These cybersecurity assets are a critical part of Atlanta’s story that will be told in March at the Georgia Cyber Security Mission to Israel. A metro Atlanta delegation will travel to Tel Aviv and participate in the CyberTech International Conference & Exhibition, the largest cybersecurity conference in the world outside the United States.

The delegation will include Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, CONEXX – the American Israel Business Connector, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and local universities, as well as IT executives including chief information and chief technology officers of Atlanta-area companies.

This trip offers an opportunity for metro Atlanta to cultivate ties with Israel’s technology industry in addition to innovators from around the world. Israel, known as the “Startup Nation” for its large concentration of startups and history of innovation, has been at the forefront of defense technologies and is world renowned for its cybersecurity expertise.

The trip will lay the foundation for participation in the Binational Initiative on Israel and the American South Cybersecurity Symposium, to be held in June at Georgia Tech. This event will bring together the Southeast’s cybersecurity community and Israeli government officials, cybersecurity companies and universities. Understanding and responding to cyber-attacks, and best practices for securing networks and data, will be discussed.As more companies suffer significant security breaches, there will be a greater emphasis on identifying better ways to protect data. The Anthem breach represents the latest in sophisticated cyber-attacks. The true cost of this breach will not be known until the information is used to the detriment of consumers, organizations and, ultimately, our economy.

New technologies will need to be developed, new companies created, and a skilled cyber workforce cultivated to respond to future attacks. The unique ecosystem needed to create and nurture such companies already exists in metro Atlanta and Georgia. The recent breaches and upcoming events with Israel provide the opportunity for our region to assume a preeminent leadership role in cybersecurity and achieve an international reputation in this critical industry.

Jorge Fernandez is vice president of global commerce, and Justin Daniels chairs the global commerce Atlanta gateway program, of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

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