Georgia growing business with Africa

As Atlanta prepares to kick off its innovative Africa Atlanta 2014 on Feb. 28, it’s important to consider all of our connections with the countries of Africa from business to books.

I work with international businesses and am familiar with the growing relationship between Georgia and Africa. This relationship will be explored in depth in a number of conferences sponsored by the Georgia Tech Ivan Allen College initiative, Africa Atlanta 2014 including “Atlanta: A nexus of Global Business, Entrepreneurship, and Innovations” and “Economic Opportunities in Africa Conference” (programs that will presented later this year) and more (sic).

Exports from Georgia to Africa grew by more than 4 percent from 2011 to 2012 to a total of $2.7 billion. Imports grew during the same period by 24 percent to $1.4 billion, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Take one major trading partner, democratic South Africa 20 years after the end of apartheid. Georgia ranked eighth among all states in exports to South Africa in 2012. Georgia companies sent nearly $244 million worth of goods to South Africa in 2012, an increase of 46 percent over 2011. And Georgia’s imports from South Africa in 2012 totaled $570 million, a 64 percent increase over the previous year. South Africa recently opened a permanent show room in AmericasMart in Atlanta.

The state seems well-positioned for additional growth in Africa. Nineteen Georgia companies currently do business in South Africa including the Coca-Cola Co., Travelport L.P., United Parcel Service Inc., Ventyx and Movius Interactive Corp.

Georgia leads the nation in the export of wood pulp, poultry, boats and insecticides and is second in export of aircraft engines and parts to South Africa. Top imports include motor vehicles, minerals, iron and steel structures, wine and electrical appliances.

Another major export to South Africa and the African continent, no less important than our business products, is books through Books For Africa (BFA), a nonprofit with offices and warehouses in Smyrna, Ga., and St. Paul, Minn.

BFA has been in Georgia only five years, but in that short time it has shipped millions of books to African children and students. Founded in 1988 by Tom Warth, a retired Minnesota publisher, it has a simple mission: to end the book famine in Africa.

BFA has sent 29 million education and law books to 49 countries over the past 25 years. In 2012, BFA shipped through its Smyrna warehouse 2.2 million books valued at $28.3 million to 22 African countries, with an additional 616 computers and 15 brand-new law libraries. The Smyrna warehouse is filled to capacity and staff are raising funds to move to a larger space.

So business and books are interrelated. And there’s no better time to make that connection than during the exciting Africa Atlanta 2014.

Munson is president of Munson International, an international relocation firm, and head of the Atlanta-South Africa Chamber of Commerce