One of Georgia's trading partners fights to keep at the front of the line

A lavish home in the posh neighborhood near the Governor's Mansion was the setting of a cocktail reception for members of the Atlanta Press Club hosted by Britain's consul general.

The occasion was to deliver a sales pitch through the journalists to the people of Georgia about business and tourism opportunities in the former colony's mother country. It's part of the GREAT Britain campaign launched to coincide with London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics and Queen Elizabeth's 60th anniversary on the throne, her diamond jubilee.

After all, 22 million Americans watched last year's royal wedding.

Georgia is a natural target for the campaign since the United Kingdom is already the state's eighth-largest trade partner at $998 million per year, and the Peach State shares the Olympic experience, having hosted the 1996 games in venues across the state. Plus, Georgia companies like UPS and Coca-Cola are major sponsors of both the games then and this year.

"It's very exciting to see how business has made the connection around the whole Olympics endeavor," said Consul General Annabelle Malins.

Earlier in the day, Starbucks announced it was building an instant-coffee factory in Augusta, with much of the output to be shipped via the port of Savannah to English consumers. Ready access to the port was a major reason each picked Georgia.

Large British companies also have factories in the Peach State, like JC Bamford's Savannah plant for earthmoving equipment.

Georgia works hard on the relationship.

Gov. Nathan Deal visited that country last year, and the state Department of Economic Development has a trade office there that will again be at the Farnborough Airshow in June.

Many factors account for such close connections, according to Augusta State University finance professor and British native Simon Metcalfe.

"Countries that have close cultural ties -- common language, colonial histories, similar legal and political systems -- trade more than those without," he said. "This relationship goes back centuries with cotton grown in Georgia helping fuel the industrial revolution and particularly the textiles industries in Manchester and Northern England."

British Prime Minister David Cameron launched the GREAT campaign during a speech in New York last September to capitalize on those ties. Its goal is to generate 1 billion pounds in additional business and 4 million additional visitors.

The consulate in Atlanta is the outpost for advancing that goal in Georgia. It guides British companies to business opportunities in the state.

Throughout Malins' home were banners and giant screens portraying various aspects of industry where Great Britain excels, from robotics to sports. The messages are part of the Prosperity Agenda, like the global entrepreneurial conference later this year in Liverpool that seeks to spark business development, notes Vice Consul Brie McKeller.

"We're making sure we understand the difference between the trade center in Atlanta and the trade center in Savannah," McKeller said.

At the reception for the journalists, every consul employee mentioned, without prompting, the state's goal of deepening the Savannah River shipping channel to accommodate larger freighters from Asia that will be using the expanded Panama Canal. The British have reason to keep an eye on those developments, said Metcalfe.

"The Panama Canal expansion will diminish the importance of European, not just British, trade," he said, adding that no one can predict by how much.

Rising oil prices will also cause markets to react by shifting to locally produced products, he noted. That's one reason British exports to Russia is up more than 40 percent over the prior year while sales to the United States have only risen 3 percent, according to Metcalfe. The same is true of United Kingdom exports to other European countries recently.

Georgia's research universities are also in the crosshairs.

"We'd like to strengthen our ties to the universities," she said.

England's top academic researchers were polled on which areas to target, and of all the world, they zeroed in on just Beijing and Georgia.

"Everywhere you look is a British connection," McKeller said.

And the Foreign Office wants to make sure everyone realizes it.

(Walter Jones is bureau chief of Morris News Service in Atlanta.)



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