WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Not only do Georgia officials hope for publicity and revenues of $250 million to $500 million from the upcoming G8 Summit in June, but they also hope the summit will better position them as the future site for the Free Trade Area of the Americas headquarters.
The G8 economic meeting will be held from June 8-10 on Sea Island, Georgia, a posh resort area separated from the mainland by a causeway -- another good reason to hold the event there. "The island is accessed through a causeway so it'll be easy to shut down, (to protestors)" Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said.
The G8 Summit brings together the leaders of the world's major industrial democracies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union also attends the G8 Summit, represented by the President of the European Commission and the current leader of the country holding the Presidency of the European Council.
The agenda at G8 Summits traditionally include a range of international economic, political, and security issues. Previously, the United States hosted G8 Summits in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico (1976), Williamsburg, Virginia (1983), Houston, Texas (1990) and Denver, Colorado (1997).
Perdue said hosting the G8 Summit "an opportunity which we sought because we feel we have a lot to show off." He said that the site fulfilled President Bush's preference to be "casual and comfortable while at the same time being secluded and safe."
Also, "There will be an economic benefit -- (the state) it's a huge tourist attraction, where many thousands of people will come that would not have come without the G8."
He said the state is hoping for revenues of $250 million to $500 million from the summit. However, "We didn't enter to be a profit center," he said. "We do expect to meet expenses," he added.
Perdue said that the state has obtained $25 million in federal funds; Georgia will need another $42 million, $16 million of which will be raised through private funding, and the rest from further federal funding.
Georgia also sees the summit as leverage in its "very aggressive effort" to be the headquarters for the Secretariat for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, said Glenn Cornell, Georgia's commissioner of Industry, Trade and Tourism. "As you know, the negotiations for the 34 countries of the Western hemisphere are going on now to arrive at some trade agreements. When those agreements are signed there will be a headquarters or a secretariat and we think there's a great case for Atlanta to be the headquarters," he said.
Cornell pointed out that Georgia has a large number of Fortune 1000 companies situated in the state. He also expressed hopes that the summit would have a positive effect on Georgia's tourism industry, the state's second-largest industry.
"Our primary objective is to make sure we capture the moment," Cornell said. "Not since the 1996 Olympic games have we had the opportunity to be on the world stage in this fashion," he said.
With Sea Island essentially isolated, protesters will be forced to congregate in Savannah -- good for the dignitaries but potentially bad for Savannah. Perdue said he strongly supports the right to protest, but only within the law. He estimated that a security force of about 20,000 would be on hand to maintain order. The initial federal grant of $25 million will go to provide security for people and equipment, he said.
Protester violence during some recent summits has resulted in severe property damage and one protester's death in Milan, Italy during the 2001 G8 Summit.
"If people come and want to voice their dissent, and voice their objections they're going to have a forum to do so. If they're going to come to disobey the law, and create disturbances -- we have been training since November in coordinated efforts to confine that anarchy and contain it," he said.
Perdue said that about 16 different law enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service, the Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the National Guard would be working together.
"Since you don't know exactly how many to expect, you have to prepare for a big crowd," he said.
While Perdue didn't say how many protesters he expected, he knew that anti-globalization and anti-war activists would probably use the summit as an opportunity to demonstrate.
"We do know that this is the first time this event has been held here in the states since Sept. 11, and certainly since the Iraq war and we know that that will attract many people who want to voice their objections in those areas. As for quantifying it ...we don't really have an expectation level."
When asked whether any businesses planned to close down during the summit, Kevin Langston, spokesperson for Georgia's Industry, Trade and Tourism department, said, "I haven't heard of any businesses that are planning to close at this point."
As for reports that some protesters might try to sail over and land on the island, "I wouldn't suggest that, no -- I don't know if that'd be good for their health," Perdue said.
Several local businesses have already started to benefit from the summit, Langston said. Doug Smith's design and graphics company, Digital Image, created designs for the golf cart-like vehicles that will be the dignitaries' transportation while on the island. "We have been able to [design] these vehicles -- some leaders from the eight most economically powerful countries in the world will be riding around in these cars." One of the biggest perks is being able to tell future customers that the company designed vehicles for the president and other powerful world leaders, he said.
He said he wasn't worried about the protesters either. "I'm not concerned. People have a tendency to focus on the negative. I'm not preparing for any kind of gloom or doom."
He added "All in all it's been a really positive experience so far ... it's going to be wonderful for this area."