deal-atlantik-lo-kf4m3082PC hosts German-American leadership conference


Caption: Gov. Nathan Deal met with the Atlantik-Brücke Young Leaders to kick off their stay at Piedmont College. Pictured, from left, are Piedmont German Professor Monika Schulte, President James Mellichamp, Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal and Gov. Deal, Atlantik-Brücke Chairman Friedrich Merz, and Piedmont Trustee John Foster.


Piedmont College became part of a "bridge" to Europe this past week as 50 participants in the Atlantik-Brücke Young Leaders conference met on campus to learn about the differences and similarities among U.S. and German leaders.

Atlantik-Brücke, which means Atlantic Bridge in German, is a private, nonpartisan organization formed in Germany in 1952 that has organized meetings of young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic since 1973. The conference alternates each year between the U.S. and Germany. Last year's meeting was in Hamburg, and this year the group chose Demorest as its home base to visit sites in northeast Georgia and Atlanta.

The groups' week began with an introductory dinner held Sunday evening at Piedmont's Swanson Center, where Friedrich Merz, chairman of Atlantik-Brücke, and Piedmont President James Mellichamp welcomed the visitors in English and German—among his many hats worn at Piedmont, Mellichamp has taught German at the college.

On Monday morning, the group met in the Stewart Hall auditorium to hear an address from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who noted that his first trip abroad after taking office  had been to Berlin. Deal said Germany is the seventh largest export market in the world for Georgia companies and Georgia is the second largest importer of German goods. Some 380 German firms now have offices in Georgia, including Porsche, which is building a new $100 million headquarters in Atlanta. At a time when Georgia lumber companies have been hurting because of reduced demand for housing, Deal said the state's pine tree farmers have developed markets in Germany to sell pelletized wood as a carbon-neutral fuel.

Also on Monday, the group held "World Café" meetings at Piedmont to discuss a variety of topics, including youth unemployment, the widening gap between the rich and poor, innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S. and Germany, and the effects of social media on business. Monday afternoon, the group heard from Peter Wittig, Germany's permanent representative to the United Nations, and from Stuart Eizenstat, who served as a domestic policy advisor for President Jimmy Carter and as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs for President Bill Clinton. Eizenstat is also a former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.

Tuesday through Thursday, the conference sessions moved to Atlanta, where the Young Leaders toured CNN, met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and met with Thomas Fisher, former District Director of the U.S. Immigration Naturalization Service. While in Atlanta they also called on former President Carter, Fifth District Representative John Lewis, and former Governor Roy Barnes.

The week was not all work, though. The group, which included business men and women from across the U.S. and Germany, visited Lake Lanier and Heaven's Landing, a fly-in community near Clayton. On Friday, they finished their tour of the area at Currahee Golf Club on Lake Hartwell near Toccoa.

President Mellichamp said that hosting the Young Leaders conference at Piedmont was a coup for Habersham County. He said the college's involvement began with a student intern program in which three Piedmont students worked in Germany last summer through the American Chamber of Commerce Internship Program. Monika Schulte, Assistant Professor of German at Piedmont, met Atlankik-Brücke chairman Merz and proposed Piedmont as the site of the Young Leaders' next conference. "Representatives from Atlantik-Brücke toured the college and decided it would be ideal for the 40th anniversary of the Young Leaders Conference," he said.

Mellichamp said several area business also contributed to the success of the Young Leaders conference, including the Habersham Chamber of Commerce, Habersham Hospital, Walmart in Habersham County, and Duane Hartness State Farm.