The state of Tennessee will soon be setting up shop in South Korea.
Pending final contracts, the state Department of Economic and Community Development is planning to open a new office in Seoul early next year. The goal is to recruit more Asian companies to do business in Tennessee.
And it's not the only part of the world the state is eyeing: Commissioner Randy Boyd also wants an office in southern Germany to access its automotive industry, and in northern Italy for its ceramic tile business.
"We’ve got a couple of companies already from northern Italy" in Tennessee, Boyd says. "It turns out, because of our clay and other natural resources, this is a great place for ceramics."
Boyd — essentially the state's chief salesman — also plans to open an office in China and possibly add a second one there to tap into more of the market.
"Businesses in Italy or in China don’t know that much about Tennessee. They may not even be able to find us on a map, so just hoping that they might show up at our door one day and decide to locate here is pretty unrealistic," he says.
He says it helps to have people there full-time. "We can do mission trips, but just sending over people for one or two weeks a year is not going to be terribly effective," he says.
Thus, the opening of new recruiting offices, which usually means Tennessee hires a contractor in those countries of interest to promote the state to nearby businesses. The venture could cost up to $200,000 a year, according to an ECD spokeswoman.
Tennessee has had a similar office in Japan for the last decade-and-a-half. Boyd credits the abundance of Japanese companies in Tennessee — 182 establishments employing more than 48,500 people — to the office's success.
“We could have one person knocking on doors every day, 10 times a day for the next 20 years, in each of the markets that we’re looking at," he says.
South Korea is coming first, thanks in large part to a key relationship with Seoul-based Hankook Tire, which is currently building a new plant in Clarksville. Boyd believes the company will help open more doors for the state.