A newspaper in the Bahamas was recently illustrated with a giant pair of scissors across the front page.
With the global economy and tourism in a prolonged slump, the government of the island nation cut spending by $34 million.
At the same time in Atlanta, Katherine Smith, a former Bahamian senator, was setting up shop in offices at 2970 Clairmont Rd. Despite the recession, the Bahamas has invested in a new consulate here serving the Southeast U.S. Ms. Smith is the first consul general and part of her mission is to promote business between her country and the U.S.
“I probably came at a very difficult time,” Ms. Smith told GlobalAtlanta. “But in this particular global climate we are dealing with, there is a lot of need for the promotion of business.”
The Bahamas became the 22nd nation to have career diplomats stationed in Atlanta. India and Ireland are also planning to add new consulates general here later this year.
The Bahamas, slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut with a population of about 300,000, is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Nassau, the Bahamian capital, is less than 800 miles from Atlanta.
Atlanta’s proximity to the Bahamas, the many direct flights there and Georgia’s vibrant business environment were all factors in locating a consulate here, said Ms. Smith.
The Atlanta consulate opened June 1 with a staff of seven. In addition to Georgia, the consulate is responsible for Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Ms. Smith was born in a small fishing village near Freeport, Bahamas. “Many people refer to the Bahamas as paradise,” she said. ip address info “For me, it’s home where you interact with your community, you develop friendships and you grow up.”
She attended Catholic schools in the Bahamas and then went to college in West Palm Beach, Fla. Although she stayed in Florida for six years, working as a marketing representative for a small resort in the Bahamas, Ms. Smith knew that she would one day return home.
“You always want to make a contribution,” she said. “You always in the back of your mind feel you’re going to go back home at some point.”
After moving back to the Bahamas from Florida, Ms. Smith worked in public relations, marketing, hotel operations and business development. She was soon attracted to the active political scene there. “My interest, my ability in communications somehow got me involved in politics,” she said.
She managed political campaigns and eventually landed an appointment to the Bahamian Senate. She was also named a parliamentary secretary, managing the prime minister’s office in Freeport as well as the Bahamian Information Service and the Broadcasting Corp. of the Bahamas, the state-run radio and television station.
Her transfer to Atlanta occurred amid a downturn in the tourism industry so severe that the Four Seasons Hotel in Exuma, Bahamas, closed in May and is currently for sale.
“The major part of our tourism business comes from the United States,” said Ms. Smith. “When you’re having this kind of economic downfall in the U.S. obviously we’re going to experience it, and we’re experiencing it in tourism. “
And yet she is optimistic that in Atlanta, she will be able to help her nation’s economy by getting the message out about the business opportunities there. In addition to tourism, the Bahamas has strong financial services and shipping industries, said Ms. Smith.
“We brag about a tax free structure and an easy environment to do business,” she said. “Those are the areas we need to focus on.”
In addition to business promotion, the consulate general will also handle visas and passports. Although U.S. citizens do not need visas to travel to the Bahamas, they are required for citizens of other nations living here.
“One group of people who have found us out quickly have been Indians,” said Ms. Smith. “We’ve seen a lot of them over the last few weeks we’ve been here.”
Ms. Smith has a three-year appointment to the Atlanta office. It is uncertain where her next diplomatic appointment will be. In the U.S., the Bahamas also has consulates in Miami and New York in addition to the embassy in Washington. It also has diplomatic posts in Canada, Great Britain and China.
Call the new the Bahamian Consulate General at (404)-214-0492. To learn more about the Bahamas, click here .
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