DALLAS — Leaders from Georgia visited Texas last week dangling low taxes and an ease of doing business hoping to recruit local companies willing to broaden their investments.
This sounds like the playbook Texas uses in California to lure businesses to relocate.
But this was the prime minister of Georgia – as in Tbilisi. Not Atlanta.
Mamuka Bakhtadze, Georgia’s prime minister, met with business leaders in Dallas last week trying to get them to consider investing in his country, more than 6,700 miles from North Texas.
“Already 200 companies from America are doing business in Georgia,” said Bakhtadze in an interview for WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics to air 9 a.m. Sunday.
He said Texas companies opened in the country a few months ago. Two are technology businesses.
“We are very much focused on creating a new ecosystem in Georgia which will be the hub for tech company startups. I’m happy to say that entrepreneurs from Texas are involved in this process," Bakhtadze said.
The prime minister said he’s looking for Texas companies in the energy, tech, transportation and logistics sectors.
"I am excited about the initiatives of the prime minister of Georgia in support of entrepreneurship," said Dave Caps, founding partner and strategic director of Hypergiant, to representatives of the Georgian government. "I was incredibly impressed by the meeting and look forward to supporting the country with anything I can."
The prime minister represents his country’s growing desire to establish a vibrant economy in the region. Bakhtadze turned 37 a few days before his interview with WFAA.
He visited Seattle, San Francisco and Canada before Dallas.
Georgia, which borders Turkey and is on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, gained its independence from Russia in 1991.
“We had to overcome a number of very painful challenges and still one of the most painful challenges is that Russia still occupies 20% of our territory,” Bakhtadze said.
Despite that, the prime minister said, the country is transforming into a "top investment destination."
“For us, a strategic partnership from the United States is the number one priority," he said.
Since his election last June, Bakhtadze has pushed for Georgia to become part of the European Union and a member of NATO.
His country is already a dedicated American ally having deployed 16,000 military troops to the coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — more soldiers per capita than any other country.
The World Bank Group ranks Georgia near the top for ease of doing business and it has the third lowest tax rate in the world.
These are statistics few American businesses and investors know.
Bakhtadze is trying to change that on an international promotional campaign.
“The United States has stood next to us since our independence during the toughest time in our recent history. We have a strategic partnership. We would like to see more American companies doing business in Georgia, making profits.”
Bakhtadze has streamlined the federal government by reducing the number of departments – known as ministries – from 14 to 11.
He previously served as Minister of Finance of Georgia and helped simplify banking regulations and the country’s tax system.
Prior to politics, Bakhtadze spent four years as the chief executive officer of JSC Georgian Railway.
He boasted that Georgia invented wine 8,000 years ago and is a popular tourist destination, drawing more than double its population.
“Georgia is a small country but with great vision. Georgia is a country that is located at the crossroads of civilization. It’s a unique country with unique nature," Bakhtadze said. "Our contribution to the western civilization is really very big although the size of our country is not large."