Free Trade brings economic prosperity to Georgia

As the economic center of the fast-growing southeast, Georgia is one of the country¹s leading destinations for international trade, investment and tourism. The state offers a variety of assets for companies seeking to enter the U.S. market ­from a world-class transportation and logistics infrastructure to renowned research universities, a highly skilled workforce to a pro-business atmosphere.

Leveraging these strengths, Georgia entered the race to locate the headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Secretariat in Atlanta more than two years ago. I recently took on the role of co-vice chairman of Hemisphere, Inc., the nonprofit organization made up of public and private sector representatives that has been spearheading the efforts.

The FTAA will comprise up to 34 countries, representing approximately 800 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) exceeding $14 trillion. The headquarters of this organization will be charged with administering the world¹s largest trading bloc and ensuring efficient flow of business between the member countries.

To help position the state as the right choice to host the Secretariat, Atlanta has hosted opinion leaders, senior government officials and business leaders from North America, the Caribbean and Latin America at the Business of the Americas Conference; and academics from leading university business schools in Latin America and Spain at the annual SUMAQ conference.

In the coming months, Hemisphere, Inc. representatives will continue to conduct trade missions to countries within the hemisphere to tout the city¹s assets and personally deliver bid packages to government leaders. The city will also host the Organization of American States (OAS) meeting, which brings together the countries of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen cooperation and advance common interests.

The economies of the Americas have been growing increasingly interdependent, trading an increasing percentage of their goods and services with each other. Free trade and increased economic integration have the potential to bring new opportunities, new jobs and sustained economic prosperity throughout the Americas ­ and especially here in Georgia.

Conservative estimates developed by The University of Georgia suggest that by 2015, free trade in the hemisphere and the location of the FTAA Secretariat in Atlanta will add 27,000 jobs statewide. The resulting annual economic gain is estimated to total $500 million. For comparison, this is equivalent to the total economic impact of hosting two Super Bowls each year.

Additionally, should the Secretariat locate in Georgia, the state can expect to attract new international businesses, banking and trade offices, new consulates and other government representatives. The vast geographic area represented by the FTAA will also drive our state¹s hospitality and travel industry through longer trips and stays across the state by foreign business leaders.

Serving as host of the Secretariat will make Georgia a strong contender for other future trade conferences and negotiations, as well as the possible headquarters of a variety of non-governmental organizations; create increased media coverage of the city and the state of Georgia; and provide other benefits that are immeasurable in advance.

Finally, the FTAA Secretariat will bring Georgia a much higher global profile in international trade and will open new doors in foreign markets for our businesses. It will also increase interest by international businesses considering making investments and establishing operations that will reach to all parts of our state and provide jobs and build wealth for years to come.

Craig Lesser was appointed Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in July 2004. Lesser leads Georgia¹s efforts to recruit new businesses and expand existing ones; grow the tourism, international trade and entertainment industries; and support the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs. With over 20 years experience in the industry, Lesser provides operational oversight to Georgia¹s effort to win the Secretariat of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas through his role as co-chair of Hemisphere Inc. He also serves as a board member of the Regional Leadership Forum and the Tech High Foundation, a newly approved charter high school in midtown Atlanta. He is on the Boards of Directors of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.