The World Trade Center Savannah board met Tuesday to talk about how the organization, established four years ago as a separate 501(c)(3) division of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, fared in 2015 and to approve plans for 2016.
Trip Tollison, president and CEO of WTC Savannah, listed the group’s top 10 accomplishments for the year. Number one on that list was the regional outreach that brought nine area economic authorities into the WTC fold as paid sponsors.
“This has been called the most substantial regional effort outside of Atlanta as it relates to economic development in the state,” Tollison said. “We’re very fortunate, not only to have these organizations, but to have them fully involved with the development of the region.”
He cited the joint effort of the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority of Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham counties to bring Volvo Cars to the area as an example of counties working together for the good of the region.
Among other efforts that made the top 10, WTCSav:
• Received approval to expand Foreign Trade Zone 104 to 16 counties.
• Nearly doubled its goal of providing 10 global education programs, offering 18 programs to 354 participants.
• Hosted 18 inbound trade delegations with 120 delegates and helped coordinate six outbound trade and business development efforts.
• Facilitated 155 business matchmaking meetings.
• Handled 82 trade service project requests from partners, prospects and other World Trade Centers.
• Generated partnership revenue of $189,650, exceeding its goal by 12 percent.
Perhaps the only disappointment was the fact WTC Savannah has not received approval to be an EB-5 Regional Center, something it expected in 2015.
An EB-5 center is a federal government-approved way for well-heeled foreign investors to bankroll projects in the U.S. that will create jobs and stimulate the economy. In return, the investor gets temporary visas for his or her family with a potential fast track — four to five years — to permanent U.S. residency.
As with any government program, there are multiple levels of qualification and vetting, both to become a regional center and to be an investor.
“The bad news is that some organizations that applied after we did have already been approved,” said WTCSav board chairman Scott Center. “We have asked Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office to look into the delay.
“It hasn’t been a problem for us so far, as the project we designated has not needed EB-5 yet,” he said. “But that timeline is getting shorter, and we need to move ahead.”
Brynn Grant, WTC vice president, agreed.
“It’s good to remember why we pursued this program,” she said. “EB-5 is a job-creation program that attracts capital to our market, both of which are primary goals for both SEDA and WTC.
“In addition to creating jobs and attracting investment, it also generates revenue, which will help WTC Savannah’s bottom line.”
For 2016, the WTC board voted to continue to grow such successful programs as its partnerships, global education series and internships.
Looming large for the upcoming year will be WTC’s agreement to join with World Trade Center Winnipeg to host the Savannah Music Festival in partnership with Georgia Power.
“Building on the success of the last years, when we brought in bi-national chambers and Consular Corps, we’re going to be doing this year’s event with a world trade center, looking to go forward every year with another world trade center,” said Jesse Dillon, manager of programs and trade development for WTC Savannah.
In addition to bringing Canadian businesses to Savannah, WTC Savannah hopes to reciprocate by bringing a delegation of area businesses to Winnipeg for “Centrallia,” an every-other-year event that attracts some 700 countries in Canada and other countries for business matchmaking.
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