Atlanta’s global reputation

Moderated by Rick Badie

In today’s lead column, the director who oversees international affairs for the city of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed talks about efforts related to trade, economic development and other activities that connect this region to the world. The second column, written by the Sandy Springs mayor, highlights that town’s sister-city relationship with a community in Israel.

Working to enhance Atlanta’s reputation

By Claire Angelle

Making sure the city of Atlanta remains globally competitive has been one of Mayor Kasim Reed’s key priorities since taking office in 2010. Re-opening the Office of International Affairs in 2013 was an important step toward reaching this goal.

As director of this office, my mission is to develop and maintain relationships with Atlanta’s international community, foreign partners and global constituents, growing the city’s visibility outside our borders and, ultimately, creating quality job opportunities for Atlantans.

We are proud of our long-lasting relationship with 18 international sister cities, 70-plus consular and trade offices, 40 bi-national chambers of commerce, and the more than 200 foreign delegations we welcomed in the last two years — all evidence of Atlanta’s growing international stature and footprint.

Every day, my office explores avenues for creating economic development opportunities to improve Atlanta’s position as a hub for international trade and commerce. An important role of the Office of International Affairs is organizing trade and business missions led by Mayor Reed to countries across the world, which raises Atlanta’s global profile.

Our business mission to Israel for the Tel Aviv Cyber Security Conference provided our delegation with ideas and solutions for abating cyber threats to the city’s technology infrastructure. Our trade mission to Brazil encouraged foreign direct investment in the metropolitan Atlanta region. Our most recent historic trade mission to Cuba, on the heels of President Barack Obama’s plans to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with Havana, provided Mayor Reed and the Atlanta business delegation with solid ideas for how Atlanta can begin nurturing trade opportunities with the island country.

The relationships we forge during these missions will yield results for years to come and allow Atlanta businesses to expand into these growing markets.

Providing support for Atlanta-based companies in their export activities is an effective way to build a stronger economy. Indeed, companies that export grow faster, pay higher wages and are less likely to go out of business than companies relying solely on the domestic market. Moving the needle in the right direction requires bold partnerships and initiatives. This is why the Office of International Affairs, in collaboration with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the state of Georgia, Invest Atlanta and other economic development partners launched the Atlanta Metropolitan Export Plan five months ago.

As part of the Export Plan, city and business leaders created the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge – a grant program targeting small and medium-sized businesses looking to begin exporting or to increase their exports.

The Office of International Affairs also works closely with Invest Atlanta to attract foreign direct investment projects to the city. In the last year, several foreign companies, representing more than 2,600 additional jobs have established headquarters and division offices here. These include: U.K.-based payment processor WorldPay, German orthopedics company Bauerfeind, Dutch financial company Backbase, and international companies from Portugal and Brazil.

Our infrastructure and connectivity also make Atlanta a natural choice for global events and conferences. Our city is excited to host upcoming international summits and meetings, including the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative America Annual Meeting, 2016 Japanese-American Grassroots Summit, 2017 U.S.-China Tourism Leadership Summit, and 2017 Rotary International Convention. Not only will these events provide an incredible opportunity to promote Atlanta globally, they support numerous jobs in our thriving hospitality industry.

The world now realizes our global connectivity is unparalleled; our workforce is young, talented and culturally conscious; and the city of Atlanta is a world-class place to live, work and play. The Office of International Affairs is working hard to enhance our reputation and ensure this trend will continue for years to come.

Claire Angelle is director of the Office of International Affairs for the city of Atlanta.

Sister cities learning together

By Rusty Paul

Cities worldwide face similar challenges – traffic, public safety and maintaining a high quality of life. A top concern always is maintaining a healthy economy in an increasingly global world so communities can afford superior services citizens expect.

Thus, the opportunity to learn from one other is a major impetus behind international twinned cities initiatives that more communities are using to explore best practices.

Recently, a six-person delegation from Sandy Springs capped a seven-day visit to Israel’s Western Galilee Cluster, 11 communities that are an emerging Middle East high-tech and medical technology center.

Israel is a rapidly becoming a high-tech start-up center driven in part by the precarious nature of its neighborhood. Innovation is crucial in a country threatened daily within and without.

Simultaneously, Israel’s entrepreneurs are eager to partner with American businesses to bring their products to the worldwide marketand they appreciate our area’s rich technological know-how. Not only does our region feature world-renown universities like Georgia Tech, UGA and Emory, but within 90 miles we have two other major engineering schools packed with Georgia expatriates: Auburn and Clemson. The world is highly interested in sharing this deep pool of intellectual capital.

During our trip, we focused on three key areas of cooperation: high-tech innovation; medical technology/healthcare interaction; and tourism.

In healthcare, the West Galilee Medical Center, a world-renown mass casualty facility, features a full, underground ERso the hospital can safely manage large-scale emergencies even if under direct attack. The staff gave us an overview of their emergency preparedness program, leading us through hardened above-ground treatment areas and an underground ER with sophisticated filters to remove chemical or biological agents that may contaminate the environment. These advanced facilities can also cope with highly-infectious situations like Ebola patients.

It was an eye-opening look at the lengths the hospital has taken to ensure it can respond to disasters and gave us insights we can apply in our local emergency response.

Nearby, another facility gave us a glimpse at several futuristic medical technologies, including a life-changing exo-skeleton system that allows wheelchair-bound individuals to walk.

We toured Tefen, a 667-acre mountaintop industrial complex and met with its mayor, Yigal Zafati. Zarfati has an interesting situation: He doesn’t have a single resident in his town. His only constituents are space-age manufacturing facilities, including ISCAR (owned by Warren Buffett), which operates a cutting-edge campus that relies primarily on robotic assembly equipment. Unlike traditional manufacturing, the facilities are clean, quietand the streets are uncongested since the city relies almost exclusively on mass transit.

Despite these fascinating wonders, the greatest benefit for our group was establishing new relationships that will connect our city to a group of Israeli communities with similar goals, aspirations and needs.

My predecessor Eva Galambos launched our Sister City program with Taicang in China and we, with North Springs High School, hosted a group of Chinese students in early October.

Now, we are linked to an area that, while on its nation’s periphery, gives us a beachhead in an emerging high-tech, medical technology and tourist destination. Besides gleaning from the region’s groundbreaking expertise, we hope our citizens who visit Israel will add the Western Galilee to their itinerary. It has ancient sites and modern marvels that are definitely worth a couple of vacation days.

Next year, we will host delegates from the Western Galilee and expose them to the Sandy Springs “wow” factor. Already, they have agreed to use Sandy Springs and Hartsfield Jackson International Airport as their gateway to the U.S. They understand the technology-rich environment we offer and our plan is to continue exploring opportunities with our new friends to broaden our horizons and enrich our mutual quality of life during the five-year duration of this initial phase of Sister Cityhood.

Rusty Paul is mayor of Sandy Springs.

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