Atlanta has a wealth of expertise in this area, from Midtown’s AT&T Foundry Innovation Center to the technologies developed by some of our iconic Fortune 100 companies.
At least 10 international airports make it easy for visitors to access Cuba’s beaches and historic cities, but Atlanta currently lacks a direct air connection to the island. I am sure it is just a matter of time before our hometown airline, Delta, offers nonstop flights from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
For tourists, students, artists and business people, that direct connection will open up worlds of possibility. Moreover, air travel is not the only mode of transport likely to expand. Cuba’s port of Mariel is in a $1 billion deepening project that will place it prominently atop the maritime trade economy that connects Asia and Europe. It will be interesting to see what transpires between Mariel and Georgia’s Port of Savannah as both expand capacity.
Many people predict the restoration of diplomatic relations will bring to Cuba consumer goods and building supplies that have been scarce since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the island’s primary trading partner during the Cold War. From paper products to construction materials, there is a lot of opportunity there for Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot and others.
None of this will be easy.
Cuba’s is a planned economy with controls and limitations on the kind of free-market activities that drive the American economy. But that is changing, gradually.
That said, any conversation about doing business with Cuba has to include mention of its unique human infrastructure. Experts tell us the workforce of the 21st century global economy requires people who are literate, healthy and entrepreneurial. Cuba has a 99 percent literacy rate and one of the world’s most highly regarded health care systems.
Not surprisingly, after 50 years of American embargoes and withdrawal of Soviet economic support, Cubans remain incredibly resourceful and resilient. It will be fascinating to watch U.S. philanthropies and business entities tailor their practices to a population with these attributes.
Finally, it would be a big mistake to think of our relations with Cuba as a one-way street. Clearly, a nation with a 99 percent literacy rate has a lot to share with us as well.
Kwanza Hall represents District 2 on the Atlanta City Council.