Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s nine-day trade mission to China helped two Buckhead companies grow.

Michael Thomas, CEO and Portfolio Manager of Thomas USAF Group, and John Gardner, Chief Sustainability Officer for Atlanta-based Novelis Inc., both traveled with Reed for a nine-day trip that began on March 23 and included representatives from more than 20 companies.

Novelis, which manufactures aluminum products, on April 11 announced its plans to build its first automotive sheet manufacturing plant in China.

Gardner said the trip allowed him to interact with several people in China who will be part of the company’s plans.

“It was very helpful to spark the process,” Gardner said.

Thomas said as a result of the trip a Chinese forklift company, UN, is planning to set up its regional headquarters in Atlanta, and his company would provide the financing.

“I’m expecting them to come visit me in May,” Thomas said.

Gardner said he’s returned to China since his trip with the Atlanta delegation.

“We’ve been selling a lot in China for many years,” he said. “We’ve got some very important customers there and the market has been fast developing.”

He said the expansion into China has helped the company add jobs locally.

“We’ve added probably over 100 people in the last 12 months so that expansion is all part of our global expansion and the global headquarters here,” he said.

Thomas, who has traveled to China before, said the trip was one of the toughest he’s been on. It involved a 20-hour flight followed by days packed with formal luncheons and dinners. He shook hundreds of hands and handed out more than 100 business cards.

He said the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce provided a briefing on etiquette before the trip.

He said that’s good news for Atlanta. He said the Chinese are eager to do business in the U.S., and Thomas told them about the perfect place to invest.

“I said, ‘If you’re coming to Atlanta, Buckhead’s the place to be,’” Thomas said.

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of