Georgia is a hub for trade in the Southeast, and its reach is increasingly global. In fact, in 2022, the state logged more than $8 billion worth of foreign direct investment. The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S. (GACC South), along with four sister chambers in the United States, is part of a network of bilateral German chambers active in 93 countries. GACC South serves more than 600 member companies in its territory of 11 southeastern states, from North Carolina to Florida to Texas, with Georgia as its home base (where the Chamber was founded in 1978), providing support to the companies it serves and acting as the official representative of German industry and trade. “Think of us as a one-stop-shop for businesses coming to or growing within the U.S.,” says GACC South president and CEO Matthias Hoffmann. The numbers are impressive: Approximately 34,000 Georgians are employed by German-owned companies, total exports to Germany from Georgia reached $42.4 billion, and the state imports $123.7 billion in German goods. Here, Hoffmann shares insight about what makes the two such good partners and how his organization helps smooth the way for further collaboration.
The state maintains a European trade office in Munich, Germany. Why is that important?
Georgia has a fantastic team working out of its Munich office, and I try to visit as often as I can. It makes a big difference for companies considering an expansion to Georgia to have a way to stay informed about investment and trade opportunities within the state, without hopping on an international flight. The local presence in Germany is also indicative of the important business relationship between the state and my home country.
We work closely with the office and provide a GACC South business network here that companies can utilize when establishing a foothold in the U.S. market, including Georgia. When I recently spoke with the CEO of a Georgia-based German subsidiary, he mentioned that when the company expands to foreign markets, they specifically look for three things, one of which is an active German chamber presence.
What are some of the most exciting developments in recent years—or things that are upcoming—between Germany and Georgia?
It is remarkable that even during the pandemic, Georgia never wavered in its efforts to attract foreign investment. This persistence has borne fruit: Hamburg-based Aurubis, a company active in metallurgy that has been around for over a century, announced their investment in Augusta—the largest German investment in Georgia’s history. The company is already actively building its facilities. Other recent investments include Gedia, Kirchhoff, and TeamViewer, just to name a few.
While it is exciting to see new German companies settling in Georgia, let’s not forget about the almost 500 German companies that are already here—I am not only thinking of Mercedes–Benz USA and Porsche Cars North America in Atlanta but also the large variety of German “Mittelstand” companies that prove that the Southeastern U.S. is a true German manufacturing powerhouse. The continuous investments by small and medium enterprises make the economy thrive.
As German investments grow in Georgia, here at the GACC South, we will continue to expand. We have several promising business delegations from Germany coming to Georgia this year, and we are, of course, talking to potential new investors. For all of us who are traveling frequently across the Atlantic, we are also thrilled that Delta Air Lines will make transatlantic travel easier for the entire business community by restarting its direct routes from Atlanta to Düsseldorf and Stuttgart.
How is the U.S. and Georgia, specifically, attracting German companies?
The number one reason for German investments in the U.S. was, is, and will continue to be the sheer market size (and corresponding customer demand), coupled with the need to be closer to your customer base. We see this reason listed every year in the results of our U.S.-wide survey of German-headquartered companies. The relative market stability compared to other international markets plays a major role as well.
Additionally, while incentives such as the Inflation Reduction Act can play a role in certain industries, German companies typically have a healthy business model that often includes long-term strategic planning, making them less receptive to mostly short-term incentives. Georgia is continuously named the number one state for business in various publications. It would be too lengthy to go into detail, but road and port infrastructure, an airport from which you can reach approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population within two hours by plane, and a relatively moderate time difference to Germany, all contribute to making Georgia and other states in the GACC South’s region very favorable investment locations.
Our member base reports positively on the local business environment, but the strong collaborative network of German institutions in the Southeast, the historical and cultural ties, and our proven German-style apprenticeship model for technical training are also location advantages.
How does the “recruiting” process work? How does GACC South work to sell German businesses on expanding here?
We are not in the business of selling; rather, all five German–American chambers of commerce across the U.S. showcase the opportunities for German companies when expanding to the U.S. I am convinced that there is a great place for nearly every German company in the U.S., but the optimal location depends a lot on the industry, the company’s business model, and their stage of internationalization.
We offer consultations to potential clients throughout the year. Utilizing the wonderful digital tools and formats at our disposal, we recently established a virtual tour through the Southern U.S. during which the economic development organizations of each state, along with our members, have the opportunity to present and highlight key factors of the respective regions to potential newcomers.
Personally, an absolute highlight is our annual German American Business Forum, which will be in June at the impressive Frankfurt Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Georgia will not only be represented by its Munich office, but all attendees will get a full culinary taste of Georgia, honoring the 30-year anniversary of the state’s office in Germany. Since not every company is ready for a full-blown greenfield or brownfield project in their internationalization efforts, we also offer business representation services. This can be a great first step into the U.S. market that enables companies to acquire the “skills to swim.”
Business leaders are experiencing the challenges of hiring a skilled workforce. How are the German companies that operate here finding the market? How is the state primed to help them succeed?
The lack of skilled workforce is a universal issue. The number one challenge facing German companies in the U.S. is finding technical talent. Together with local industry, we launched the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT) to help employers address the skills gap through an industry-led approach to education. It is fully benchmarked on the German Dual Education System and certified by the German Chamber of Commerce in Berlin. This apprenticeship program, which currently focuses predominantly on technical manufacturing occupations, such as mechatronics, combines on-the-job training with classroom learning to train a globally competitive workforce. The state of Georgia and its Technical College System have been wonderful partners throughout the process of launching the program, and we continue to expand.