Counties find sports is a 'universal language'

By Clay Wilson

Hirokazu Yamaoka says that sport is a dialect anyone can understand.

"Sports is a universal language," said Yamaoka, chief executive director of the Japan External Trade Organization.

Business is a universal language, too; and tourism, trade and development officials in Henry and Clayton counties sought Friday to capitalize on the mixture of the two tongues.

The Henry County Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Henry County Development Authority and the corresponding organizations from Clayton County hosted the first International Champions Reception on Friday at the Eagle's Landing Golf Course.

Specifically, the reception was held in a skybox overlooking the course's 18th green during the Nancy Lopez Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship. As LPGA celebrities such as Annika Sorenstam, Lopez and tournament title defender Se Ri Pak teed up below, representatives of at least six foreign countries watched in breathless anticipation.

Over the course of the day, the officials also chatted with Henry and Clayton commerce officials, making introductions and swapping business cards.

"We see it as an opportunity to introduce Henry County to the international community," said Henry Chamber Executive Director Kay Pippin.

According to Pippin, the idea for the reception emerged about a month ago, as members of Metro South, Inc., a six-county economic development association, were "discussing ways to maximize opportunities around the LPGA."

But Henry County Development Authority Chairman Bob White said the concept goes even further back, to last year's tournament. He described the excitement of the vice president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce upon meeting Pak.

"The light bulbs went off in our heads – here was a great opportunity," White said. "We had been looking for a way to leverage the tournament for any kind of development purpose."

Henry and Clayton officials sent out invitations to the reception, and Pippin said they received 37 acceptances. Visitors to the skybox were expected throughout the day from the German American Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta consulates of Japan, Costa Rica, Korea, Great Britain and Switzerland.

"It's wonderful," said British Vice Consul for Investment Glen Whitley. "The hosts have been fantastic. It's a great opportunity to make some new contacts."

Such an opportunity is "absolutely invaluable," said Grant Wainscott, vice president of community development for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

The Henry Chamber footed the cost for the event – including a lavish spread of food and beverages for the foreign dignitaries – through hotel taxes it receives from the county.

But Al Hosford, chairman of the Chamber's board of directors, indicated the event was well worth the price.

"So much is gained from being able to put a name with a face," he said. "So much business is done by relationships."

Yamaoka agreed. "It is a good location to meet," he said. I could make acquaintances with several people from Henry County."