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First Americas Competitiveness Exchange Brings Together Business and Government Leaders from 19 Countries to Talk Innovation, Trade, and Investment

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Participants from the Americas Competitiveness Exchange Trip in Atlanta, GA

From March 31 through April 4, more than 50 participants representing government, business, and economic development organizations from 19 countries across the Western Hemisphere embarked on a tour of the American Southeast. The purpose of this trip was to provide a forum to share best practices, foster alliances, and create opportunities for two-way trade.

The packed agenda kicked off in Atlanta with visits to the Chamber of Commerce, the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), and VentureLab. These stops provided participants with a view into how Atlanta has become the number three city for Fortune 500 businesses and a booming medical technology cluster. Participants were treated to a tour of the ATDC facility and offered a glimpse of the innovative companies that are supported by the incubator.

The second stop on the tour was Greenville, South Carolina. Participants received a warm welcome and tour of the city from the Mayor of Greenville, Knox White. Everywhere the group stopped in and around Greenville, we heard the inspiring story of how a community that had been devastated by the decline of the textile industry had completely reinvented itself to become a major automotive hub. Tours of the EDA-funded Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and the BMW plant in Spartanburg illustrated what is possible when the private, public, and education sectors come together.

But it was several students from AJ Whittenberg Elementary School that provided the trip’s most inspiring presentation. Through corporate support and community involvement, Greenville opened a world-class school in one of the poorest parts of town. The curriculum emphasizes early education in math and physics in order to train the CU-ICAR and BMW engineers of tomorrow. Kids learn about physics by studying roller coasters and get to go to Disney World to apply what they’ve learned at the end of the lesson. The Greenville community understands the importance of nurturing kids – some as young as four – to ensure the continued success of the automotive and engineering cluster it has built.

In Conover, North Carolina, the delegation visited the Manufacturing Solutions Center to see how this EDA grantee is working to support entrepreneurs and help businesses test and develop innovative products such as Bootights and Jobst. The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina conducts ground-breaking work in biotechnology, nutrition, and health. Both sites demonstrated that big things can happen in small towns with the right partnerships and dedication from the community.

The trip ended in Charlotte, North Carolina with visits to the EPIC Center at UNC Charlotte and Packard Place. Daniel Roselli the co-founder of Packard Place, a regional hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, succinctly summarized the point of all of the meetings, presentations, and conversations of the past 5 days: Success occurs when government, community, and entrepreneurs work together. Success depends on partnerships, and what is true of one region is true of an entire hemisphere. If the Americas work together, not only will our individual economies grow, but it will strengthen the entire hemisphere.