Ryan Kurtz (Italian Honorary Consul in Georgia)

L'Italia in Georgia: una presenza vivace e in crescita

Dec 12, 2016 4741 ITA ENG

Our virtual tour all around the United States today brings us to Atlanta, Georgia. The Peach State is not among the places with a huge history of Italian emigration back from the first years of the XX century, but there's a lot of Italian business going on, and a couple of new Italian institution coming soon in 2017.

Our guest today is Ryan Kurtz, the Italian Honorary Consul in Georgia: we thank him for this opportunity, and we're happy to say ciao to him!

Ryan, you have not an Italian heritage, but you have a long time relationship with Italy. What's your experience about dealing with our country?

I am a lawyer by trade and I work with a number of Italian businesses, but I guess my original connection to Italy is through my wife who is from Milan. Because of our relationship, I spent a lot of time in Italy including living in Rome and spending another period of time in Milan.

I worked for some time with an Italian law firm based in Rome. After I was married, I obtained my Italian citizenship. I continue to work regularly with Italian clients.

Can you tell us something about the story of the Italian emigration in Georgia? Is there a big community of Italian Americans in your area?

It depends on how you define "Big": it's hard to give a precise number, because the only official numbers are based on the information that you can get from the consulate, which is based on the registration of the Italians in the US.

As you know, the government requires Italians living abroad to register with AIRE, but many Italians don't do it, for a variety of motives. So, for that reason it's difficult to estimate the precise number of the Italians in Georgia.

I would estimate that the Italians living in the state of Georgia could probably be close to a number between seven and ten thousand people.

Many of the Italians coming to America settled in the NorthEast of the US, others settled in New Orleans and also in South Florida, but in Atlanta I don't think we had the same pattern. Obviously there are a number of Americans of Italian heritage here, just based on the sheer numbers of Italians that emigrated to the US in the late 1800s and 1900s, but I'm not aware of any particular industry that attracted specific kinds of workers or with any Italian geographic pattern of emigration to the state of Georgia.

Are there places that have had or still have a particular importance in describing Italy in Georgia?

There is a historical marker located in Reynolds Square in Savannah, GA. The marker reads: "Italians in Georgia's Genesis. When James Oglethorpe left England to begin the new colony of Georgia, in 1732, one of the passengers was Paul Amatis, an Italian artisan, skilled in producing silk. He was later placed in charge of Trustees Garden. Later, more Italian families came to pursue the task of producing silk. Joseph Ottolenghe is responsible for erecting a public filature in Savannah, on what is now Reynolds Square. It was at this filature that a one time record number of 15,212 pounds of cocoons was delivered for processing into raw silk. High hopes for success in this undertaking is exemplified on one side of the original Georgia Seal which depicts a mulberry leaf, a silkworm, and a cocoon, with the encircled words: "Non sibi sed aliis" : "Not for ourselves but for others."

Besides, several Universities in Georgia have Italian departments: the University of Georgia, the Georgia State University and the Emory University, all have strong Italian departments.

And how about the new Italians, the ones just recently emigrated to the US: are there many of them in Atlanta?

Apart from Atlanta - which it's obviously not a rural area of approximately 6 million people, if you include the entire Metropolitan Area - we have cities like Savannah, Augusta, Macon, all of which are cities that count, probably, less than a quarter of million people; and then the rest of the state is fairly rural.

The further industries in Georgia are fairly diversified: we have a certain number of automobile manufactories located here and in recent years we have a very healthy biotech industry; also, we have a very healthy financial services and financial payments sector.

In Georgia, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic. Delta Air Lines, UPS, Home Depot and Coca Cola are headquartered in Atlanta, and a number of European companies have chosen Atlanta as their North America Headquarters. The position of Atlanta is very suitable for international business and particularly Western European Countries' companies like the access to a world renowned airport as well as they like to be on the Eastern seaboard, where 80 % of the US population is located so they can get their products and services to the majority of the US population fairly quickly.

The number of Italian Industries or Companies located in Georgia is fairly strong: there are approximately 95 Italian Companies and approximately 260 Factories that are controlled by these Italian Companies, and it's estimated that Italian Companies employ approximately 2500 people in the state of Georgia. In addition of having Italian business employment in the State, every year there are more and more first generation Italians coming directly from Italy to settle in Atlanta. Again it's hard to pinpoint a number, but it's clear that the number of new Italian immigrants coming to Georgia has been increasing in recent years.

The Italian Trade Commission recently closed its office in Atlanta after many years...

Yes, it was a controversial decision based on budgetary constraints, but they decided to close the office here and instead to open a new office in Houston and to cover the Georgia market through a combination of the new office in Houston and their existing office in Miami, among others. So, the Trade Commission is certainly committed to Georgia even though they do not have a permanent office here.

How is Made in Italy in your area? And what can be done to improve the Italian trade with Georgia?

I think that the brand is very strong here as well as in all the United States.

There are a number of initiatives in place to improve and continue to expand the trade between Georgia and Italy. At the Georgia State Government level we have an agency called the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and they're responsible for attracting foreign investors and foreign businesses to the state of Georgia and that includes Italian Companies.

I've personally been a part of several Trade Missions to Italy with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, where we met with Italian companies, and many of these companies ultimately decided to locate and to open subsidiaries in the state of Georgia. We are currently in discussions with the State in planning a trade mission for the next year to Italy.

These Trade Missions normally happen in collaboration with several organizations in Italy, for example Assolombarda or Regione Lazio: they often work with us to expand Italian businesses in the US market. In my professional experience, I've seen a number of Italian businesses that have come to the South East, and they are very successful and very happy with their decision.

There is more that Italian Government Agencies could do to promote the state of Georgia, and the South East in particular, as a potential location for Italian companies. Probably, when they think of the US, the Italians think of New York or Washington or perhaps Miami, and don't consider Atlanta and the state of Georgia as potential locations for business investments. But Atlanta and the state of Georgia have lots to offer: in many respects Atlanta is the capital of the South East of the US. Atlanta is the perfect location for an Italian company interested in doing business in the US. We've got a wonderful airport, access to the Eastern seaboard, the cost of living here is relatively low compared to the West coast and the Northeast, we've got less Union activity, and we also have a really nice weather!

For all these reasons the Italians that have settled here seem to have been very happy with their choice.

Cinema Italy in Atlanta is an important yearly event that describes and represents Italy. Please tell us more about this

Giancarlo Pirrone has done a wonderful job with this. I think it's a very exciting event for not only the Italian community but also the entire Atlanta community. Giancarlo does a great job in organizing it each year, I think it's wildly successful and I hope he will continue.

Ciancia Italian Conversation Club is one of the most important Italian clubs in the South East, and helps promoting a fundamental tool of our culture: language

CIANCIA is an important organization here locally, also because historically we haven't had a chamber of commerce or any further formal social structure in the Georgia area for Italians and Italian Americans, and CIANCIA has in large part provided this structure.

Also, there are news coming soon about the Italian language here. The Dante Alighieri Society has several offices in the US, but their closest office to Atlanta is in Miami. They have been working very hard to offer Italian classes locally here in Atlanta and it's my understanding that these classes are set to start in January: and so Dante Alighieri will be opening up a new branch here in Georgia to offer Italian courses in the next couple of months, and this is a very important development.

Besides, we're very close to starting an Italian American Chamber of Commerce, which, again, in the next couple of months, should be open and running. It will be an important addition to the community, because until now we really tried hard over the years to start either a chamber or a chamber-like organization but, unfortunately, without success up to now. But things are going to change.

Beyond cinema and language, what can Italy do to improve the promotion of our culture in Atlanta?

Well, we have some nice museums in Atlanta, including the High Museum of Art, and they've had a number of very successful Italian art exhibitions: I think it would be nice if we could increase the quality and the quantity of these exhibitions, and see more Italian art in Atlanta. Also, I am hopeful that the opening of the Dante Alighieri Italian courses will help spread and promote the Italian language locally.

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