In 2009 — what Craig Lesser called a “slow year” — the former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development made only six international trips.
But next year will pick up: He already has “plans firmed up” for trips to Austria, China, India and Turkey.
The platinum frequent flier said that in his three years since leaving the state’s top economic development post, he has continued his outreach beyond Georgia’s borders.
“Being commissioner opens a lot of doors, but I dare say being former commissioner opens a lot of doors, as well,” he recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lesser also still keeps his hand on the rudder, to some extent. He is chairman of three international groups here: the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s international committee, the World Chamber of Commerce board and the World Trade Center board.
He said it brings an element of continuity to all of them and helps unify their efforts.
Lesser left state government in 2006 to become a managing director at the Atlanta law firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge.
In 2008, he founded a consulting firm with Phil Jacobs, a retired AT&T president, and Dwight Evans, a retired executive vice president of the Southern Co.
Their company — the Pendleton Consulting Group — focuses on providing “high-level economic development and public affairs strategy,” Lesser said, for companies that want to bring operations into Georgia or need help with branding and political strategy.
Two of Lesser’s clients are Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia and Kia supplier Sewon America Inc.
Lesser’s biggest achievement as the state commissioner was helping to bring Kia Motors’ $1.2 billion manufacturing plant to West Point.
Lesser, now managing partner of Pendleton, said while he and his partners are registered as lobbyists, their focus is more on strategy than visiting the state Capitol.
Lesser works from his Sandy Springs home, where he lives with his wife, Nancy, and their two daughters.
But mostly, he said, he works from his Blackberry.
At age 58, Lesser said he feels really fortunate to have moved to Atlanta.
“I came here in the 1970s with no job, no prospects for a job and no money. I’ve had a great career. I am lucky.”
Lesser grew up in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium. He graduated from the State University of New York College at Oneonta.
He started his career here with a short stint as a radio announcer and talk show host at WSB in Atlanta.
He later rose through the ranks at Georgia Power and Mirant Americas Inc., a spinoff of the Southern Co.
When he looks back at his legacy as commissioner, the effort to bring a headquarters to Atlanta for an intra-Americas trade group also is still paying dividends, he said, even though the headquarters never materialized.
He cites a 25 percent increase in diplomatic representatives from other countries in Atlanta.
He believes the Georgia economy is “solid.” Even though the real estate industry has waned, “our economy has broadened and deepened,” he said.
He also praised the election of Kasim Reed as Atlanta’s next mayor.
“I think you have to look at the election of a new mayor who served in the state Legislature as someone who knows his way between City Hall and the state Capitol as a huge asset moving forward,” Lesser said.
The biggest thing on the state’s agenda, he said, ought to be education.
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