Many people may not realize that one of Georgia’s top 20 global trading partners is a small island located halfway around the world in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Philippines.
The island is Taiwan, officially the Republic of China. Lying just 81 miles at its closest point across the Taiwan Strait from China, officially the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan’s total area, including outlying islands, is only about the size of the Netherlands. But with 23 million people it is more populous than 75 percent of the world’s nations and is an economic powerhouse highly regarded as a top global player in the information and communication technology industry.
Georgians may also be surprised to learn that Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei and Atlanta enjoy a special relationship. They are sister cities, and this year marks the 40th anniversary of sharing economic, cultural and education ties for their mutual benefit. Mayor Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American chief executive, established the sisterhood with Taipei on Nov. 5, 1979, making it Atlanta’s seventh sister city. He also created the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission to oversee the relationship between Atlanta and its sister cities, which have grown to 17.
Atlanta joined the sister cities network, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower started in 1956 to unite people of different cultures to promote peace and prosperity, on June 23, 1967 when Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. forged Atlanta’s first sister city relationship with Salzburg, Austria. More than half a century later, sister cities contribute a huge boost to the Atlanta economy, nearly $100 million through business and trade, tourism, education, and cultural programs, according to the sister cities website.
This month Atlanta business and civic leaders will have a unique chance to mark the special milestone in the Atlanta-Taipei relationship when Taipei Mayor Dr. Ko Wen-je visits Atlanta with a Taiwan trade delegation. He will be honored at an invitation-only reception for business and cultural leaders from Atlanta and the Atlanta Taiwan community March 20 at the Center for Puppetry Arts. The next day he will speak to the Metro Atlanta Chamber Board of Directors, observe an MOU signing by officials of the Chamber and the Importers Exporters Association of Taipei – a business-to-business agreement unrelated to the sister city relationship – and then go with the trade group to City Hall where Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will officially welcome them to the city.
The sister city relationship has been an economic boon that has greatly benefited both Atlanta and the entire state as well as Taiwan. Taiwan was Georgia’s 19th largest exporting partner and 11th largest importing partner and in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce (International Trade Administration). In addition, Taiwan is Georgia sixth largest export market in Asia. In 2016, Georgia exported $420 million in goods to Taiwan, with the greatest volume being in chemicals, food manufactures, computer and electronic products and machinery (except electrical).
The two-way cooperation in trade and cultural and educational exchanges has resulted in an investment of $326.5 million by Taiwan in Georgia and a robust Taiwan community of 5,000 Taiwanese living in metro Atlanta. The business investment supports more than 5,000 jobs across the Peach State. The job picture breaks down to 402 jobs created by investment from Taiwan-affiliated companies, 2,196 jobs supported by exports of goods to Taiwan and 2,405 jobs supported by exports of services to Taiwan.
One of the most prominent of the Taiwan companies in the metro area is Maxxis International, also known as Cheng Shin Tire. The company is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of tires, and supplies tires to customers in 180 countries for uses ranging from lawn and garden accessories to bicycles to cars. Maxxis’s North American corporate headquarters is in Suwanee and is the main hub for the company’s global marketing, its main U.S. distribution facility and includes a state-of-the-art research and development center.
The Atlanta Taipei Sister Cities Commission, based in Atlanta and one of 17 sister cities commissions under the umbrella of the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission, began celebrating the 40th anniversary last year with several events. The group has a larger slate of exciting events planned this year. The most ambitious of those will be a hike on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail in September, said Peter Yeh, chairman of the Atlanta-Taipei commission and a sales associate for Maximum One Catalyst Realtors. “Taiwan is covered by many high mountains, and it is very popular to hike in them,” said Yeh. In fact, mountains and forested foothills account for more than half of the land mass of Taiwan. Many peaks soar above 9,000 feet, and Jade Mountain at 12,966 feet is the highest peak in East Asia. “Our goal for hiking the Georgia section of the Appalachian trail is to attract avid hikers from Taiwan,” added Yeh.
Other activities Yeh is planning include planting two sister trees to be called Atlanta and Taipei with signage on the Atlanta BeltLine’s East Trail and inviting the Taipei Symphony Orchestra and a Taiwan puppetry group to perform in Atlanta. “Our mission is to bring people in Georgia and Taiwan together in Atlanta,” said Yeh. “One of our hopes is that when tourists from Taiwan visit Atlanta they might be interested in seeing the sister city trees.”
As Atlanta and Taipei embark on the next 40 years in their sisterhood, Yeh said he is focusing on business-to-business exchanges that he hopes will increase economic activity in imports/exports and inbound/outbound investments. “The United States, Taiwan and South Korea are leaders in the semi-conductor industry. Taiwan is also very strong in electronics, electrical and clean energies, especially solar, and auto component manufacturing. There can be cooperation based on these industries. Atlanta is strong in FinTech, solar, software and entertainment, particularly filming. Clearly there is connectivity between Taipei and Atlanta in the above areas in addition to electronic, electrical and other light-to-heavy industries.”
Steven Hao, president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of Greater Georgia, has lived in the Atlanta area for 21 years. During that time, he has not only seen Atlanta grow from a large
Southeastern city into an important international city but has also worked to help the Atlanta-Taipei sisterhood flourish. “Georgia and Atlanta have lots to offer Taiwan, especially Atlanta with its airport and logistical capabilities,” he said.
“Atlanta provides Taiwan access to U.S. markets and the chance to purchase Georgia products,” he continued. “At the same time, Taipei is in a very geographically advantageous location in Asia. There is a lot of synergy between the two cities – one in North America and one in East Asia – and the sister city relationship offers an opportunity to immensely enhance our mutual productivity.”
The Global Federation Chinese Business Women (GFCBW) is another organization that has benefitted from the sister city relationship. The GFCBW has its global headquarters in Taiwan and its membership, which spans three oceans and five continents, includes the elite of Chinese business women. The group created its 60th chapter in Atlanta two years ago.
“The Atlanta-Taipei sister city relationship is very meaningful to GFCBW Atlanta since our headquarters is in Taipei and most of our members are from Taipei,” said Jackie Chen, president of GFCBW Atlanta. “GFCBW members strive to be ambassadors who advocate for a gender-balanced world and who seek to bridge the economic development, cultural and civil engagement between Atlanta and Taipei.”
Tom Oder is an award-winning Atlanta-based journalist who is the founder and principal of Worldwide Editing, a writing and editing firm with a global focus that tells the stories of businesses and nonprofits and the people who make them successful.