The British are here! And they want to do business

I wore Union Jack cufflinks to mark the “special relationship” between U.S. and U.K. My hosts approved.

Atlanta is well-positioned to compete with other metro areas for companies, jobs, bright young workers and business in general, according to our friends from across the pond.

Actually, those “friends from across the pond” are right here in Atlanta, at the British Consulate-General Atlanta, in the Georgia Pacific Center on Peachtree Street.

British Counsel General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, whose territory spans from North Carolina to Mississippi, said metro Atlanta “stacks up generally pretty well” against competing cities in the U.S.

To explain why, he cited many of the usual metro Atlanta attributes: tax incentives, low cost of living, superior logistics (read: Hartsfield) and more.

The setting for those comments was an informal meeting the British Consulate hosted for local journalists this morning. The U.K. is a major trade partner not only with the U.S., but with the state of Georgia. More on that later.

I wore Union Jack cufflinks to mark the "special relationship" between U.S. and U.K. My hosts approved.

I wore Union Jack cufflinks to mark the “special relationship” between U.S. and U.K. My hosts approved.

As Senior Business Editor, I get invited to lots of breakfasts, lunches and coffees. Sometimes drinks. But this event marked the first time I’d been invited to “tea.”

Well, of course. How veddy British.

This will be fun, I thought. I’d never been to the British consulate and I envisioned something between Downton Abbey and the Baker Street flat in the contemporary BBC hit “Sherlock.”

Instead, the Consulate is a pretty standard, even spare, 32nd-floor office with an expansive view of downtown Atlanta. I was hoping for crumpets, but alas. And there wasn’t even tea! We got coffee instead, perhaps in deference to the presumed preferences of American guests.

But these mild disappointments were more than made up by a stimulating conversation with Pilmore-Bedford and another gentleman we were somewhat mysteriously asked not to name. (My hosts were so polite about their request, I went along with it.)

The hour-long discussion ranged from the well-known U.S.-U.K “special relationship” to Middle East policy, but we kept coming back to trade. After all, among the primary businesses of the British Consulate is business.

I posed a question about metro Atlanta’s competitiveness, which I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately. Four years ago, I helped lead an AJC special report exploring how Atlanta measured up against competitors such as Dallas, Charlotte and others.

The AJC plans to revisit the question in 2015, so I wanted the opinions of fresh eyes and fresh minds.

From the U.K.’s perspective, it sounds like Georgia – primarily metro Atlanta and Savannah – is seen as very desirable. In addition to the factors Pilmore-Bedford mentioned, the British clearly see this region as a good place to do business and “a nice place to live.”

They are investigating several economic development possibilities now.

Pilmore-Bedford did mention he thinks Atlanta should continue to raise its profile globally and has a “branding” problem. It’s a hard place to sum up in a few words, he said, and capturing the right ones could make a deeper impression abroad.

I thought that was an interesting observation, given the area’s penchant for launching branding campaigns that never catch on or are hopelessly outdated – “the city too busy to hate” is clearly not cutting it anymore.

At any rate, what the British business community thinks matters.
In 2013, Georgia exports to the U.K. totaled $1.51 billion. The U.K. is the fourth-largest export market for Georgia.

The same year, Georgia’s imports from the U.K. totaled $1.9 billion. The U.K. ranks seventh among Georgia’s importer nations.

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