County hopes to land new trade facility

By Justin Reedy

Clayton County officials and business leaders are hoping the county can land a trade center that could lead to thousands of new jobs in the area over the next several years.

County leaders are taking part in the state's efforts to urge the Secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, to locate its new headquarters here in Georgia. The FTAA is a planned free trade block of 34 Democratic countries in North and South America.

The Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism is leading the state's efforts in lobbying for the FTAA to locate its headquarters here, which a University of Georgia study found could bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to the state economy. Georgia is a logical choice for the FTAA headquarters, officials say, because the state is a crossroads for North and South America, has a strong global business presence and a diverse population.

Because of the economic benefits of the project, both the Board of Directors of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce and the Clayton County Board of Commissioners have recently passed resolutions encouraging the FTAA to locate its headquarters in metro Atlanta.

"This would have a huge economic impact on Clayton County, as well as metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia," said chamber President Shane Moody.

With the FTAA's mission centered on international trade, one selling point for Atlanta being selected for the trade block's headquarters is Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest passenger and cargo airports in the world. That's why Clayton County officials and business people have gotten involved in pushing to get the facility located here, in close proximity to Hartsfield.

"(Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's) thing is to locate it in Georgia, and they want to locate it near the airport," said Crandle Bray, chairman of the county commission. "We think the perfect place for it is near the Atlanta State Farmer's Market (in Forest Park) and near the airport."

Accessibility to Hartsfield is often one of Clayton County's strong suits in recruiting trade and distribution businesses, officials say, and that could help the county land the FTAA headquarters.

"Because they need access to Hartsfield, I think the Mountain View redevelopment area would be perfect," said Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer. "The Atlanta area may not get it at all, but I feel like if one of the attractions is Hartsfield, then it should be near Hartsfield."

The FTAA headquarters will have a function similar to that of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, where trade agreements between member countries are negotiated and arbitrated. The headquarters building itself would be a regular office building several stories tall, Rhodenizer said, and would translate to about 200 jobs on its own.

But the economic impact of the headquarters could be much larger, according to the UGA study. The loosening of trade restrictions associated with the creation of the FTAA will lead to about 16,000 jobs being created statewide by 2015 regardless of where the headquarters ends up, the study said. But the headquarters would add another 11,000 jobs and about $500 million annually to the state's gross domestic product n that's the equivalent of holding two Super Bowls each year.

"Long term, it will have a significant impact on the state of Georgia as far as trade goes," said Emory Brock, the director of economic development for Clayton County.

Though it could be a few years before the decision is made on the FTAA headquarters location, Brock says the county will be working diligently along with the GDITT in its competition with other locations, such as Houston and Miami.

"Hopefully, we can get it in Georgia because we'd all benefit from that," Brock said. "We're all working together on that. But secondly, we'd like to get it located here in Clayton County."

But officials caution that even if Georgia is selected as the site for the FTAA headquarters it could be elsewhere in metro Atlanta.

"We don't have a lock on (the airport advantage), because businesses often move somewhere within an hour's drive of the airport n and that could be just about anywhere in metro Atlanta," Brock said.

"Whether we can get it or not remains to be seen," added Bray.