Atlanta must boost international exports

Over the past three years, Atlanta has become a safer, financially healthier and stronger metropolis for business, science and technology. However, to meet the post-recession jobs challenge and become a leading world-class city in a 21st century economy, we must work harder.

At Wednesday’s Global Cities Initiative forum, sponsored by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase, I will highlight the region’s assets: the nation’s third-highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies; the world’s busiest passenger airport; globally renowned research universities; a broad and engaged consular corps; a talented and diverse workforce, and a solid transportation and logistics infrastructure.

The world landscape is changing quickly. We compete not only with cities like Dallas, Chicago and Miami, but withDubai, Chengdu and Mumbai. These emerging international markets shouldn’t been seen as a threat to our survival, but rather a tremendous opportunity for growth.

Increasingly, these metros power the world economy and drive demand for goods, products and services. For the first time in recorded history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and metropolitan areas, surpassing 60 percent by 2020. Urbanization brings consumer power, with the Asia-Pacific share of the global middle-class population reaching 54 percent by 2020.

To continue Atlanta’s job growth and overall success, we must look outward and tap new international markets. Atlanta is the 13th-largest metro exporter in the U.S. It sent $20 billion in goods and services abroad in 2010 and supported more than 150,000 local jobs.

These are impressive numbers, but tremendous untapped opportunities remain, especially for small- and medium-sized companies that drive sustainable job creation. These companies have the potential to export goods and services, but typically lack the knowledge or internal capacity to pursue international markets. Until recently, promoting global trade as an expansion strategy for local businesses has not been a major focus of our standard economic development activities.

Greater Atlanta needs a dedicated strategy to help more firms become new exporters and assist current exporters in finding new markets. The city of Atlanta is launching a metro export planning process with our regional partners to better leverage our shared strengths, synchronize our efforts, enhance our global business identity and expand local business opportunities with overseas markets.

Over the next several months, with support from the Brookings Institution, Atlanta will assess market opportunities and business needs, develop strategies and begin to implement improvements with significant private- and public-sector support.

Invest Atlanta and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs will collaborate on this new Atlanta Metropolitan Export Plan with other partners from across the region that include the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Department of Economic Development, and U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center. UPS has agreed to chair the steering committee, which will include the business community, universities and other government agencies.

Tomorrow’s world demands fact-based strategic thinking and a bold commitment to becoming more effective and efficient every day. We have a choice: Respond to changing economy dynamics and untapped business opportunities, or sit back and watch the world pass us by.

Kasim Reed is mayor of Atlanta.

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