DETROIT—While states knock themselves out recruiting job-rich automotive companies, Georgia has zeroed in on a strategy that has attracted more than a dozen foreign suppliers.
Georgia economic development officials are giving special attention to one particularly lucrative segment: small to midsize, privately owned, and often family-owned, European parts companies.
Most often, they are German companies without U.S. operations, said Nico Wijnberg, director of international investment at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
In the past two years, Georgia has added such 17 suppliers, most of which have never tried manufacturing in the U.S. He says there are many such parts companies in Europe.
Wijnberg's team often travels to Europe to make a pitch to groups of suppliers with relationships to one another, rather than individual large companies.
"We get in front of those people and maybe have a room of 30 companies that are actually interested in doing something at some point," Wijnberg said.
In recent years, Southeastern states have been able to tout their proximity to U.S. auto plants to recruit parts makers. Wijnberg says Georgia's strategy has been to sell the idea of being geographically uncommitted to a specific automaker, but relatively close to several.
That notion of a location with critical mass appeals to small to midsize European suppliers that want to base their U.S. entry on multiple customers, Wijnberg says.
Clusters of European suppliers have started to form in northwestern and northeastern Georgia because of the proximity to Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, Volkswagen in Tennessee and BMW in South Carolina. In addition, Korean suppliers have shown interest in western Georgia because of the closeness to Hyundai in Alabama and Kia in western Georgia.
Also important to recruiting small to midsize suppliers, Wijnberg says, are the emerging cultural hubs formed by European suppliers in recent years. That includes being able to offer family-owned German suppliers an area with German accountants and attorneys.