Atlanta was busy a couple of weeks ago (4-7 Oct) … an abundance of Belgians [and Dutch citizens] flooded our Jackson International Airport for a three-day trade and economic mission. A combo of 85 Flanders-Dutch companies represented by 142 humans (of which 27 Flemish companies – 39 people) made the trip to seek opportunities, interested in learning strategies, and to participate in seminars and various panels. Many visits to local companies were also on the schedule: Coca-Cola, Delta, Graphic Packaging, Infor, Interface, ICE (Intercontinental Exchange), Mohawk, Barco, Bekaert, and UPS to just name a few. Even if the goal of the trip was purely business, the atmosphere was jovial [although at some occasions one had to be dead-serious] and the feedback was super enthusiastic. Of course, we are ‘the next Silicon Valley“!
At the head of the crowd, our Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte teamed up as a perfect pair. Mr. Bourgeois was accompanied by Pascal Walrave, Advisor Foreign Policy, Benjamin Muylaert, his Spokesperson and was greeted upon arrival [or soon after] by Belgian Ambassador to the United States, Johan Verbeke, Claire Tillekaerts, CEO Flanders Investment & Trade, Geert De Proost, General Representative of the Government of Flanders to the U.S., Consul General of Belgium in Atlanta, Genevieve Verbeek, and Investment & Trade Commissioner, Wim Van Cauteren.
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Monday 5 – There was no better way – except for the weather – to start the busy schedule with a visit to the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center site. Escorted by Ambassador Andrew Young, our Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were welcomed by Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Chief Executive Officer of the center. For the occasion, below the United States flag, The Netherlands and Flanders colors were flying proudly, making it all very official. The group strolled down ‘Freedom Walkway’ and paid homage to the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by laying a wreath at the King’s memorial. During the event, the Econ-Mission was also greeted by a group of 40 children from the Flemish-Dutch school The Molenwiek. Three paragraphs from of Annie MG Schmidt ‘s Avonds laat were read by Cezanne, Xue-Ann and the final part was read by the 9-year old Amelie from Dessel (Belgium) … Her typical accent put a bright smile on Mr. Bourgeois’ face. Our officials took some time to chat with the children. – Thank you beATLe Petra for the info. Read more and more.
The long day came to an end with an informal BBQ and an official kick-off at Mission’s hotel, the InterContinental Buckhead.
Tuesday 6 – Early start …. A 7.30 am-breakfast at the Hotel Intercontinental with a brochette of Dutch and Flemish entrepreneurs. The goal was for the MPs – who were welcomed by Ambassador Schuwer – to get a good look and feel of the business environment of Atlanta, its climate and the interface with the Dutch and Flemish governments. Among the panel, you will recognize our local Belgians (and beATL-fans): Stephan de Mulder (Aluvision), Geert Beerens (Delta Engineering), Brigitte Pelleman (Unibind), Franky Oorreel (Boplan) and Timothy Steleman (Delaware Consulting). Claire Tillekaerts from FIT (Flanders Investment and Trade) closed the session at 9 am.
They joined “The Internet of Finance, Innovation in Financial Services and Cyber Security” seminar where Johan Hermans from CSI Tools (Herent, BE) spoke about big data analytics and crime detection/prevention.
They ended up their morning attending a closed roundtable ‘The Role of Flagship Companies & Incubators in Succesful Knowledge Regions’ before heading to The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce where Industry leaders, experts and policymakers from The Netherlands, Flanders and Georgia [including Piet Demunter, Director Strategic Development at Brussels Airport Company] discussed the latest trends in Multi-modal Transport Corridors and Last mile logistics during the conference ‘Innovations in Gateway Logistics – The Georgia and Netherlands/Flanders Experience’.
A well deserved digestive stroll through Centennial Park with representatives from the Atlanta Board of Tourism was led by Joe Skopitz, before being dropped off at the Coca Cola‘s Headquarters where they met with Clyde Tuggle, Senior VP and Chief Public Affairs, and Scott Figura, Global Director of Productivity. Their first stop was the Board Room before enjoying more meetings on supply chain management and smart logistics. After the serious part, most were’temporarily held up’ in the gift shop … the fabulous polar bear was the #1 purchase and was carried off, nicely tucked away in the recognizable red and white plastic bags.
They spent their mid-afternoon with Governor Nathan Deal and the First Lady at a Remembrance Ceremony at the North Wing of Georgia Capitol. Wreaths were laid at the World War I and World War II memorials in honor of Georgians who fought during those wars. The Prime Minister and Minister-President also honored the Georgians who fought alongside Dutch and Belgian troops in recent wars in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dinner time! All to the Atlanta History Center for a huge reception followed by a formal dinner hosted by Mayor Kasim Reed. The event started with a signing ceremony to solidify new partnerships between the City of Atlanta and the Netherlands-Flanders Delta region. The 300-crowd were split among 29 round tables and served a 3-course menu. Read more and more.
Wednesday 7 – A serious start with a seminar at the Federal Reserve Bank Atlanta: ‘The Impact of Emerging Technologies & Cyber Security on the Financial Services Industry‘ where our VIP’s met with Dennis Lockhart, President and CEO, and signed a memorandum of understanding to share information in the area of financial services.
After lunch, the Flemish and the Dutch split up for the remainder of the day. Mr. Bourgeois drove to Rome to attend the re-opening of the Bekaert plant which had suffered from a major fire last year.
Beating the heavy traffic, the Bourgeois-convoy reached its final destination of its mission: Aluvision in Duluth. The Flemish company from Deinze officially inaugurated its US headquarters where Mr Bourgeois deftly handled the scissors and cut the red ribbon. It was very important to Mr. Bourgeois to show his support, since he was the one who personally handed the owners, Ann Vancoillie and Dirk Deleu, the ‘Export Lion‘ 2015 [the annual prize awarded by Flanders Investment & Trade to Flemish companies that achieved most success in terms of export during the previous year]. Read more and more.
In the late evening, Mr. Bourgeois jumped on his plane to fly back to Belgium via Amsterdam. Thus came the short, fruitful, exciting and exhausting visit – well organized by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) and Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO) – to an end.