One month ago, Tom Brady nearly ruined my conference.
I was bringing together a group of 60 or so colleagues from across the country and we had chosen Atlanta as our venue.
When choosing a host city – and we had British diplomatic colleagues jetting in from both coasts as well as Houston and Chicago– we really could have gone anywhere.
The criteria was an interesting and fun city which boasted impressive conference facilities, good airport connections, reasonably priced hotels and, given the timing of our event at two days after Super Bowl Sunday, wasn’t likely to be hosting a ticker-tape parade. Atlanta ticked all of those boxes.
So at half-time on the afternoon of February 5th, I was slightly concerned that there would be a million people lining the streets of Atlanta at the same time my lot would be trying to make it to their conference – and that the parade would likely end in the old Olympic park at the time my lot were trying to get to the World of Coca-Cola (yes there is such a place and it is extraordinary) for our reception.
Then stepped up Tom Brady to alter the course of history – and save my event.
So when we turned up for the conference at Southface Energy Institute, there were no crowds, instead just some half-price NFC Championship merchandise for sale.
So they might not have beaten the Patriots at football, but Atlanta still has plenty to offer – not least 16 Fortune 500 companies, more than the whole of Massachusetts. Among others, Atlanta has (#UKInvestors) Coca-Cola, UPS, The Intercontinental Exchange, and Arris Group.
Rather surprisingly, Atlanta is also a financial hub – not just because they sell cheap football merchandise, but because it is the US HQ for British companies like World Pay and Sage and also home to Equifax and the Intercontinental Exchange.
The 8th largest city in America, it has the planet’s busiest airport; was the last US city to host a Summer Olympics (Britain finished a rather pathetic 36th in the medal table with just one gold medal – our worst finish since 1952); and is also the Zombie Capital of the World (due to the films made there, not any actual zombies).
There are plenty of UK links with Atlanta including Pinewood Studios (where Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spiderman: Homecoming were shot) being one of 300 British companies based in the State - and Triumph Motorcycles also have their US HQ there. There is also an Atlanta office for British augmented reality company, Skignz – who, despite the odd name, has some incredible technology that allows you to place virtual signs in the air above any venue or place you wish to highlight.
Even the new MLS franchise Atlanta United have three British players and a Brit – and former Tottenham Hotspur executive – in their front office.
Atlanta is also home to the man behind one of my favourite social media sites – something called Scotch Trooper. Combining two of my favourite things, Scotch whisky (an export worth $6bn a year and my favourite way to end an evening) and Star Wars (filmed in the UK and with British actors cast in most of the lead roles). The photos depicting Storm Troopers among whisky bottles is both entertaining and thirst-inducing.
One Atlanta resident, a tour guide at the World of Coca-Cola – an extraordinary homage to the soft drink and third-largest global brand – told me “we may not have won the Super Bowl, but we are already over it – we are a proud city and there is much to celebrate here beyond just sport”.
That’s easy to say when you work in a venue that celebrates the true American success story – a medication turned global powerhouse selling 1.8bn drinks a day and the market leader in nearly every country in the world (although in Scotland it is given a real run for its money by Irn-Bru ‘made in Scotland from girders’.)
So New England might have (another) Super Bowl win, but Atlanta still has the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame, a larger 10km run (the Peachtree run is the world’s largest) and is the home of the Walking Dead.
And, yes, my conference went well. Thanks for asking.