ATLANTA -- A January trade delegation to Georgia led by Premier Greg Selinger has yet to bear fruit but it has accomplished perhaps its most important goal -- getting Manitoba on the radar in the hottest market in the United States.
The group, which included Bill Morrissey, head of Yes! Winnipeg, Elliott Brown, the province's director of Canada-U.S. and international relations, and Diane Gray, president and CEO of CentrePort Canada, spent several days in Atlanta and the surrounding area in search of investment in Manitoba and export markets.
Atlanta-based officials said this week they are on a never-ending quest to tell the world their city is within a two-hour flight (or two days by truck) of 80 per cent of the U.S. market, ranks third in the country with 14 Fortune 500 headquarters, including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS and Delta Airlines, Georgia's six per cent corporate income tax rate hasn't changed since 1969 and the state has net in-migration of 50,000 people a year. On top of that, the six southeast states have a combined GDP of $1.6 trillion, making the area the 11th-largest economy in the world.
"We have to brand Atlanta and they have to do it for Winnipeg. We had a lot in common with them," said Renee Rosenheck, senior project manager of international investment with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
"Nobody who lives in the U.S. wakes up and says, 'I want to open my business in Winnipeg.' They think Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver," she said.
There are 260 Canadian companies with operations in Georgia, the eighth-biggest state in the U.S., including Manitoba's Great-West Lifeco, Smith Carter architects and Winpak, a producer of high-quality packaging materials.
Price Industries, a Winnipeg-based manufacturer of air-distribution products, has more than 1,000 employees in the state, and New Flyer Industries produces 75 per cent of Atlanta's transit buses.
Total trade between Manitoba and Georgia was $540.5 million in 2012.
"Atlanta is increasingly a major global transportation and logistics hub, being well-known as the home of the world's busiest airport," Selinger said.
One of the most enticing carrots Georgia offers to companies considering setting up in the state is its Quick Start training program. Its people will visit the company's current manufacturing plant, do a training-needs analysis and put together a training program.
When a company confirms its investment in the state, the training program is put in place so employees develop skills specific to its production process.
"It can take a year or two to build a facility. While that's being built, we're training. On the day they cut the ribbon, they can start production," said Scott McMurray, director of international investment and global commerce with Georgia USA.
Bruce Berry, president and CEO of Winpak, said with 75 per cent of its business in the U.S., it only makes sense to have five of its 10 plants south of the border. (Six if you include one in Mexico. Four others are in Canada.)
Winpak established its presence in Atlanta in 1980 through an acquisition, and Berry said its timing was great, considering the immense growth of the region since then.
"Where there is population growth, there are people eating, and when they eat, their food has to be packaged. Food-packing operations tend to hover where the people are," he said.
It also helps that the U.S. southeast is a significant meat and poultry market, and that's right up the alley of a company that makes packaging materials for the highly perishable food products business, he said.
Geoff Kirbyson is touring the U.S. as part of a U.S. government program called U.S.-Canada: Partners in Economic Development.