WTC Savannah: Business Advocate of Year
WTC Savannah: Business Advocate of Year
Savannah Morning News
Mary Carr Mayle
A little over a year later, those skeptics have quieted considerably as the World Trade Center Savannah has already begun elevating the Savannah area on the world stage, providing the region with international connections and more opportunities to grow — and attract — business.
It’s that early, right-out-of-the-gate success that has earned the new organization the Savannah Morning News’ Business Advocate for 2012.
“I’m really excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish in our first year,” said Eric Johnson, the SEDA board member who led the fact-finding committee and now serves as WTC Savannah’s first board chairman.
“We have a staff up and running. We’ve done a tremendous amount of research. We’ve held a board retreat with (former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development) Craig Lesser.
“We’ve already begun our educational initiatives, and we’re kicking off our first five-month internship program in cooperation with Savannah College of Art and Design, as well as Savannah State, Armstrong Atlantic State and Georgia Southern universities.”
Learning and growing
The organization, formed in October of last year as a separate 501(c)3 division of SEDA, has its own professional staff and a 10-member regional board of directors.
Since then, it has secured four “founding investors” in the diverse fields of manufacturing, shipping and warehousing, business advocacy and engineering/architecture.
It has produced one major trade services case study, 11 customized country and industry reports for businesses and customized protocol briefs on 14 countries.
The major case study involved working with the Savannah-based firm of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung to determine what kind of value WTC Savannah could bring to the process of doing business overseas.
The engineering and construction management firm had already established itself in Bermuda and Saudi Arabia and was looking at the potential of doing business in Turkey.
Johnson, who is a partner in the firm, did not take part in the study.
“I personally removed myself,” he said. “I wanted honest, objective feedback about the process and results.”
As a result of meetings set up through WTC Savannah working with WTC Istanbul, the company reported it was able to achieve in a few days what would have normally have taken much longer and cost significantly more.
“It was a discovery process for both sides, and it could not have gone any better,” Johnson said.
In the last year, WTC Savannah has hosted 49 international delegates from 17 countries, often partnering with the city of Savannah, for the purpose of highlighting the area’s business assets.
“Most importantly, we have been working effectively with partners to help Georgia businesses grow internationally while building connections through our network of worldwide affiliates to cultivate more foreign direct investment project leads for the region,” said Brynn Grant, vice president of SEDA and WTC Savannah.
Lowering the learning curve
The WTC Savannah has also organized or participated in seven educational events with partners throughout the region and is currently creating a 2013 calendar of global educational seminars and workshops aimed at educating area companies on ways to grow their businesses overseas.
It’s proven a popular topic.
The most recent offering — a seminar on export compliance, documentation and procedures — quickly sold out, even though it was held during Thanksgiving week.
“We had a waiting list,” Grant said.
Laura Moore, vice president of commercial banking for SunTrust Bank’s Georgia Region, said she is delighted to have the WTC Savannah as another asset when assisting clients in the global market.
“The SunTrust International Division has been able to offer our clients international financial solutions for many years, but now we can take it a step further by offering our clients the opportunity to partner with the WTC to do research on specific countries or attend seminars regarding foreign trade,” Moore said.
And, she said, she’s benefitted from WTC.
“The seminars, like the one on exporting that I recently attended, provide additional education for me on the constant changes going on in our world. This additional education allows me to better serve my clients.”
A regional approach
While the name references Savannah, both Johnson and SEDA interim president Trip Tollison made it clear that World Trade Center Savannah’s focus is regional.
“We are advocating for all the Georgia Coastal area and beyond,” Tollison said. “A project in Liberty, Effingham, Bryan or Bulloch counties benefits the entire region, and we want to make sure our adjacent counties know the WTC’s resources are available to help them with whatever they may need.”
It’s a message Dorie Bacon heard loud and clear.
“In tough economic times, exporting is a way to grow business, but you have to know what you’re doing to be successful,” said Bacon, executive director of the Screven County Economic Development Authority in Sylvania.
To that end, Bacon has sent a number of Screven County businesses to WTC seminars and has hosted Grant as a speaker at Sylvania’s Rotary Club.
“I see this as a major asset to the area,” she said. “A rising tide floats all boats, as the saying goes.
“We’re happy we can be part of that tide.”
“At the end of the day, I want to see the WTC as a key component of regional economic development,” he said.
“And, make no mistake about it, regionalism is the wave of the future.
“The state is a great economic development partner, but the state has to answer to 159 counties,” he said. “We as a region need to be working from our end.
“Our role as a WTC really meshes well with our role as an economic development organization — to work with the state to bring more international trade.
“We aren’t in competition with the state. In fact, as a result of our successful case study in Turkey earlier this year, we were able to help the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Trade Division with their recent trade mission there.”
Currently, the World Trade Center is working on a major research project that will be an on-going process of evaluating how “Savannah Touches the World.”
“There are over 20,000 data points already. And that includes information like the international connections of regional colleges and universities and the top countries already doing business in our region — Mitsubishi from Japan, JCB from Great Britain, Efacec from Portugal, for example,” Grant said
“We will continuously add relevant data and the analysis will help focus our proactive targeting efforts — a major focus for 2013.”
ABOUT WTC SAVANNAH
The World Trade Centers Association license is flexible, with a number of different models. The World Trade Center Atlanta, for example, is a club and restaurant that caters to that city’s international businesses.
Savannah’s model, headquartered in what is now the World Trade Center Savannah building on Hutchinson Island, is focused on trade information, education and research, business matching, trade missions, proactively generating leads and helping area companies reach international markets, according to Johnson.
A later phase could potentially add industry-focused conferences and trade shows to the mix.
BEST OF SAVANNAH BUSINESS 2012
Every day through Dec. 30, the Savannah Morning News will profile companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment in the past year. The Exchange staff chose the honorees — from a list of nominees submitted by local business leaders — utilizing broad criteria, from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.
TUESDAY: Newcomer of the Year — Savannah Slow Ride/Crawler Fabrications
TODAY: Business Advocate of the Year — World Trade Center Savannah
THURSDAY: Comeback Business of the Year
FRIDAY: Education Partner of the Year
SATURDAY: Entrepreneur of the Year
SUNDAY: Manufacturer of Year
British ambassador visits Savannah
Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott and Eric Johnson, chairman of the World Trade Center board of directors, shared the stage in the JCB auditorium Friday morning to talk about Georgia’s special relationship with the United Kingdom.
SEDA building becomes WTC Savannah
The Savannah Economic Development Authority moved forward Tuesday with the dedication and renaming of its four-story, Class A office building on Hutchinson Island as the World Trade Center Savannah.
WTC Savannah scores first success
WTC Savannah scores first success Savannah Morning News Mary Carr Mayle It was a match made in heaven.The Savannah-based firm of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung was looking for new offshore markets. The newly formed World Trade Center Savannah was looking for case studies to determine the kind of value they could bring to the [...]
SMN: Tollison settles in at SEDA
Tollison settles in at SEDA Savannah Morning News Mary Carr Mayle When Steve Weathers resigned abruptly in September after two years as president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the SEDA board didn’t have to look far to find a new leader. Trip Tollison, former vice president and chief operating officer for the Savannah Area [...]