Q: In the past three years, Georgia has managed to secure a score of mega projects and attracted more than $6bn in greenfield FDI. What do you think is behind this success?
A: We are in a favourable location and for a long time we have been taking advantage of that. We are home to the busiest airport in the world [by passenger traffic – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] and have a port [Port of Savannah] that is a key element of water traffic throughout the south-east and the north-east [of the US].
The airport is especially important for companies that have their corporate offices in the state and need to move employees in and out quickly, while the port is important for manufacturing companies that want to efficiently move goods in large quantities. Additionally, sectors such as biotech benefit from the fact that we have a score of higher education institutions with Georgia Tech, Emory and the University of Georgia, to name just a few.
There are other factors to Georgia's success too. The climate here is generally considered as favourable and we are [known as a] right-to-work state, so wages and benefits are generally an advantageous item when investors look at what the cost of production is going to be.
Q: What about soft factors and jobs in creative industries? Can Georgia be considered as an attractive place to live for young professionals?
A: We are currently seeing growth in the film industry; we also have phenomenal growth in the music industry and it can be seen as an attraction. We are a very accepting state. We have people from literally all over the world, most of them moving here because of job opportunities.
We have a number of sports teams, including the Atlanta Braves, a Major League Baseball team; the Atlanta Falcons, a National Football League team; and the Atlanta Hawks, a National Basketball Association team.
On top of that, our state has pretty much anything you could ask for; from mountains to the coastline, you will find it all here. Just as Americans discovered the south-east some time ago, the world is [now] discovering the south-east of the US.
Q: How does Georgia go about promoting these assets and business opportunities in the state?
A: We have 10 foreign representatives located in key places around the world and towards the end of this year we will open our second trade office in China. I try to be involved in FDI promotion as much as Georgia Department of Economic Development [GDEcD] wants me to be. Often, if we have a very good prospect, GDEcD asks me to call the potential investor. I am very pleased to do that. There are a lot of components in the FDI attraction process, but we are all working well together.
Q: How much do incentives play a role when attracting investments to Georgia?
A: They do play a role, but as with other aspects, they have to be put up against incentives offered by other states. It is a very competitive environment and as a general rule financial incentives are not a key factor, because everybody else offers them. You have to distinguish yourself in a different way from financial incentives. That is what we are trying to do with Quick Start [a state-funded workforce development programme], saying to potential investors: if you come here, we will train your employees free of charge, so when you open your doors here, they will be ready to work for you from day one.