In November 2017, Bremen played host to a delegation from Savannah, USA. The delegates visited a number of companies and held a ‘meet & greet’ event at the Industrie Club to introduce their business location on the coast of Georgia. In this interview, Craig Lesser (Savannah World Trade Center), Hugh ‘Trip’ Tollison (Savannah Economic Development Authority, or SEDA) and Andreas Gerber (Bremeninvest) explain why these contacts are so important to them, and which opportunities they see for the future.
What does this region on the coast of Georgia offer that would interest international partners?
Tollison: Savannah has a population of just under 400,000 and is one of the major ports of the eastern USA. Almost 20 per cent of container transshipments on the east coast are conducted via Savannah. The region also benefits from a sound infrastructure. Atlanta airport is only an hour’s flight away, and the port offers good access to the markets, especially for logistics companies and manufacturing. A dynamic cluster of suppliers is centred on our local aircraft manufacturer, Gulfstream. Ports, logistics, aviation – those are the areas where we score highly.
Those are also Bremen’s strengths. Sheer coincidence?
Lesser: No, we were deliberately looking for such similarities. About five years ago, we completely re-focused our global strategy in order to boost our regional economy through foreign trade and collaborations. We conducted very thorough research in our quest for business partners, narrowing down a field of 100 countries to a shortlist of five, with Germany right at the top. Then we embarked on more in-depth analysis and gathered more detailed information. Bremen and two other locations turned out to be the most attractive, so in 2013 we got on a plane to visit all of them, and to meet the key players. Ultimately, we firmly believe that economic relations and success are always built on personal contacts.
Why is Bremen so particularly important for Savannah?
Lesser: We had a number of cities on our shortlist, but Bremen, Halle and Munich are our top three. In Bremen, everything just clicked into place. Right from the start, Bremeninvest and the Chamber of Commerce made us very welcome. A location with a port, a steadily growing maritime economy and logistics, as well as an efficient infrastructure, is the ideal partner for us to boost our region’s external trade. Another important parallel is aviation. With Airbus and its many local suppliers, Bremen is in a similar position to Savannah with Gulfstream. So why not get the key players from both locations together in order to bolster both economies through partnership?
Tollison: One of our goals is for German companies to invest in our region and thereby create jobs, of course. A lot has already happened over the past five years. Our regional economic growth is currently the highest in the USA, and we would like to build on that.
What would be the benefit for Bremen as a location if local companies were to set up base in Savannah?
Gerber: We economic developers have known each other for several years now, and I value the friendly relations we have established. Savannah certainly is a great starting point for Bremen companies that want to enter the US market, as Georgia is in a strategic location in the south-eastern US, a region with an expanding economy. Such activity can also benefit Bremen, because when a company opens branches abroad, its head office tends to get busier as well.
Personal contact is important. Once you have established common ground, you only need to pick up the phone to make something happen.
Craig Lesser, Savannah World Trade Center
There have been several visits by both sides. So what are the next steps for getting partnerships started?
Tollison: We are using this trip primarily to make small and medium-sized businesses aware of Savannah, and to invite them for a visit. In April 2018, the Savannah Gateway Regional Showcase is offering selected companies from Bremen a business programme with individually organised site visits to firms in the Savannah region. We will cover all costs apart from travel, and the itinerary is coordinated by the Savannah World Trade Center. Also, the Savannah Music Festival, Georgia’s largest music festival, featuring more than 500 performers from around the world, is taking place at the same time.
So you have come to Bremen especially to invite companies to Savannah?
Lesser: Nothing happens if you just sit in your office. We are convinced that global business links must be built on personal relations. So we are more than happy to come over, and we take advantage of the opportunity to get to know companies in Bremen and Bremerhaven. We hope that we are going to be able to intensify these relationships in the long term, and that German businesses will decide to settle in Savannah.
Which location factors could be decisive for Bremen companies thinking about setting up in Savannah?
Gerber: Generally the important factors are the same as here: infrastructure, business clusters, research environment, available space and real estate. ‘Soft’ factors – such as quality of life, housing, culture and leisure options – also have an impact on companies’ decisions. In the end it comes down to a gut feeling, and here it is useful if personal contacts have already been established beforehand through mutual visits.
Thank you for talking to us.
Companies who are interested in participating in the Savannah Gateway Regional Showcase can find details at www.savannahgatewayshowcase.com. Applications need to be submitted by 1 February 2018.
More information about Bremeninvest, the international brand name of Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen, its activities and contacts is available here.
The contact at Bremeninvest is Andreas Gerber, Team Leader International Relocation, tel: +49 (0)421 9600 123, email@example.com.
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