Northsiders to Know: Claire Angelle
A Foreign Affair
written by JENNIFER COLOSIMO | photography courtesy of CLAIRE ANGELLE
CLAIRE ANGELLE often tells people that she’s from Nantes, France. It’s not entirely true, but makes sense, like how we Northsiders simply claim an Atlanta address to out-of-staters. Nantes was the biggest city near her home in the semi-rural Coueron. Tucked into the northwestern part of the country, it’s not globally known for anything other than the childhood home of ornithologist John James Audubon. Besides bird watching, which she did aplenty, it’s best identified as a place for rich family ties, simple values, delicious seafood, rolling acres and an appreciation for a slower pace of life.
Now an Atlanta transplant, Angelle moves at a much faster pace and most of her bird watching is limited to the soaring winged creatures seen from her 29th-floor office in downtown. Still, she carries her unique background and resulting personality into a lot of boardrooms, where the combination has helped change how our city is recognized worldwide.
It started with her own flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She met her husband, a Louisiana native, on a trip and decided to make the move to America.
“I had always been fascinated by the U.S. and by American culture,” Angelle said. “I wanted to explore my horizons, but of course had strict geographical guidelines from my Southerner husband.”
That left Atlanta – with an opening at The French Trade Commission – as the land of opportunity. In 2007, she gathered everything she wanted into two suitcases, made a brief stop in her husband’s hometown of Lafayette and moved with him to Atlanta. She helped French companies establish a presence in America before taking on a greater public relations role with The French Consulate General. There, she spent six years doing press, communications, special events, fundraising and political a airs.
“Growing up in a rural area in France, looking at the American city skyline on TV, it inspired a lot of dreams,” Angelle said. “The optimism in the air was very galvanizing, so even though there is always a sentiment of fear from having to pave your path without your social network and wondering, ‘will I succeed,’ I have a keen sense of adventure, so I was mostly excited.”
That excitement included the appointment of Consul General, Pascal Le Deunff, in 2009.
“He empowered me to find innovative ways to increase the visibility of France in the [Southeast U.S.],” she said. “France was already known for [its] cuisine and art; we wanted to promote the innovative aspect of France.” Together, they launched France-Atlanta, a packed two weeks of French-American events that showcases the French’s innovative spirit in culture, science and humanitarian affairs. Angelle and her team recruited 50 local partners, including Mayor Kasim Reed, who was one of the biggest champions of this idea … and of Angelle’s skills as well.
Shortly after, Reed hired her to run the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs. As director, she could hyperfocus her efforts to ensure Atlanta was seen as a globally competitive city.
“We leverage our connections throughout the world to make sure [Atlanta’s] visibility and presence is growing,” Angelle said. But that didn’t just mean focusing on the city’s businesses.
“You can’t be pro business and not be pro people,” she added. “Mayor Reed asked us to look at ways to create a favorable environment for foreign-operated businesses.” The assignment launched several projects that brought thousands of jobs to Atlantans, inspiring a special group of entrepreneurial women and earning Angelle a reputation as one of the most influential people of Atlanta – not to mention, as of July 1 this year – as an American citizen.
Her drive to help people included the launch of WEI (Women’s Entrepreneurial Initiative), an incubator of 15 woman-run, local businesses getting mentorship, financial assistance and guidance to strengthen their overall business model as well as learning international trading, so they’re in a better position to succeed after the program. Angelle has also helped promote entrepreneurship among the foreign-born population, teaching languages, creating housing, establishing a climate of trust between law enforcement, creating room for dialogues, civic engagement, citizenship and more. Lastly, she’s part of a team that has worked to bring more than $32 million in new investments to the city. To you and me, that means a lot of jobs.
“I think I have the best job in the city,” Angelle said. “It’s very diverse and even though we focus on international business and trade, I try to have a very transversal view of what it means to be an international city.” They work very closely with the airport to attract new international routes, more tourists and large-scale, international events, as well as to use fi lm and entertainment as a medium to promote Atlanta outside of our borders.
“We’re sending the message that we welcome diversity to the city of Atlanta, enriching the fabric of the city,” Angelle said. “Atlanta has the second fastest growing international population in the country. Really, if we empower our foreign-born population, they are creating business at a faster pace. It creates economic opportunities for all Atlantans. To see the real impact of the opportunities that we’re able to create as a result of foreign investment in the city is the most rewarding aspect of this job.”
Those opportunities include the majority of her fellow Frenchmen, who live on the Northside, plus several foreign- owned companies that have made the Northside their U.S. headquarters. In her free time, you can spot Angelle enjoying the newly refurbished in-town neighborhoods around Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market or getting a taste for even more things international along Buford Highway.