Atlanta delegation returns from China, touts encouraging signals

Businesspeople, economic developers and Atlanta officials hope business deals are in the offing, but caution that they could take years to happen. And as participants parse the encouraging signals from China, they realize the city's competitors are making their own aggressive pitches.

Nine foreign direct investment projects -- Chinese companies looking to set up operations in the United States -- are now clearly in play for Atlanta, said Brian McGowan, president of Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development agency. The prospects include manufacturers of solar equipment and electric car components.

"A lot of these companies were either already considering Atlanta and we got them more interested, or they weren't considering Atlanta and now they are," McGowan said, adding that decision-makers from several of the companies will be in Atlanta in the next six months. An additional five companies are considering expansionsbut are less definitive in their plans.

Atlanta companies on the trip held more than 150 meetings, McGowan said. Those businesses told Invest Atlanta that the meetings generated 35 good leads.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, a City Council member who represents part of southwest Atlanta, said she spoke with a top executive at a Chinese video animation company and touted Tyler Perry Studios and EUE/Screen Gems, both of which operate in south Atlanta.

Bottoms said the Chinese businessman promised to visit Atlanta. Bottoms, like other participants, declined to identify the targeted companies.

"They were very substantive meetings," Reed told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think they're going to generate real dividends. We're well-positioned to be the leading center of investment in the South."

Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University, said he wanted to research how his school could participate more deeply in Georgia and Atlanta economic development. Rick Woroniecki, a vice president of brokerage at Ackerman & Co., said he hoped to connect with Chinese companies that could become partners for the commercial real estate firm as it facilitates business relocations -- both for American companies going to China, and vice versa.

"Results? Ask me in three years," said Mason Cargill, a Jones Day attorney who scouted out possible legal work for American and Chinese companies. "It will take that long to know. But if you don't do this, you won't get any investment in China. Because every big city is going over frequently. We're not alone."

Chicago was rumored to be sending a delegation to Shenzhen, right on the heels of Atlanta's group. During one banquet there, someone asked a Chinese official how often the city hosts foreign delegations.

Twice a day, came the reply.

"The whole world is courting China," said Hans Gant, senior vice president for economic development at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

The trip's final cost to taxpayers has not been calculated. Earlier estimates called for a cost of roughly $24,000 for Reed and three staffers.

Atlanta-linked businesses and institutions including Carter, H.J. Russell & Co., Home Depot, Georgia Power, Jones Day, Coca-Cola and the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business helped defray the cost of lunches and meeting space.

The cost to send three people and a consultant from Invest Atlanta could run between $15,000 and $18,000, said McGowan, who has been on eight trade missions to China. Invest Atlanta's budget comes from fees charged to developers, as well as taxes, so taxpayers might not be on the hook for the total cost.

The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation had questioned why a third of the City Council had to go on the trip, and asked for a full report to ensure tax dollars were spent wisely. Five City Council members participated at an estimated cost of roughly $3,700 each. But two -- C.T. Martin and Kwanza Hall -- say they are paying for the trip with personal funds.

"Sometimes people try to ding you on this stuff," Hall said. "I would love to split it [with the city], but I'm not crying about it."

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