It is hard to believe that the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia has existed for 25 years. When AmCham was founded, the state was barely functioning, with intermittent water and electricity supplies, roads that were often barely passable, and a lack of even basic government services. Corruption was rampant and foreign investment was incredibly risky.
AmCham Georgia was formed in reaction to that threat. Then Ambassador Kenneth Yallowitz was working to support U.S. businesses that were interested in entering the Georgian market, but he understood that these companies were fundamentally weak and only tried to look out for themselves. He realized that they needed to band together if they were going to collectively pursue their collective interests and lobby for improvements in the country’s business climate.
Almost every sector of the economy has transformed over the last 25 years, from tourism to construction, retail, banking, and IT. This has been driven by a general Westernization of the corporate sector and legislative environment, from finance and legal services to corporate governance and management practices.
AmCham has helped to drive forward these changes. This work has operated differently, depending on the times. In the first few years of AmCham’s existence, the organization was mostly focused on protecting companies from attacks and advocating against corruption. Following the Rose Revolution, we worked on tax reform, the labor law, and customs regulations, which were some of the major drivers for Georgia’s dramatic improvements in international ranking.
After Georgia’s war with Russia, we supported the argument for post-war aid, which helped rebuild the country and facilitated our recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.
More recently, with the current government, we were one of the founders of the Investor Council, encouraged the development of the Estonian Tax Model, worked on visa reform, capital markets, corporate governance, tax reform, support for education, and much more.
While these changes have been profound, more important than any piece of legislation that has been passed is the Western-oriented business community that we have helped to develop. AmCham provides a means by which like-minded businesspeople can offer one another support. As AmCham has grown, the influence of this network and our ability to provide that support has grown with it. This has facilitated an incredible transformation in corporate culture and expertise in Georgia.
Many people have helped us in our efforts to build this community. The U.S. Embassy, as previously mentioned, was instrumental in the foundation of AmCham and has been one of our closest partners. In recent years, this partnership has become even closer – and we very much look forward to working with Ambassador Dunnigan, who will once more take on the role of AmCham’s Honorary Chairperson. Our involvement with USAID has also intensified in recent years. We have conducted many projects, leveraging the pro bono guidance and expertise of the board, committees, and AmCham’s general membership to allow us to push more effectively for change. This is all supported by a highly effective and professional staff.
In the context of the war with Ukraine, the Georgian-American alliance is even more important, and our support for continued Westernization of the business environment is critical.
The year ahead is clearly going to be rocky with the continuing war in Ukraine, the conflict in Israel, and elections in Georgia and the U.S. that will make many people nervous.
But in the 25 years that AmCham has existed, we have faced many difficult years. During that time, AmCham has continually pushed Georgia in the right direction, and I am confident that we will continue to do so in the future.
Therefore, I would like to congratulate and thank our members for all your efforts. As members of the board, committee members, or active participants in meetings, AmCham’s membership is the lifeblood of our organization. You are the main source of our influence and our effectiveness as an organization. As we continue to work together, I look forward to the next 25 years.
President, American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia
Executive Vice President, GMT Group