Windmill Harbour resident and expatriate Laura Stanbridge sees many similarities between Hilton Head Island and Marbella, Spain, where she has been honored for her efforts to forge international business relations.
Both rely heavily on tourism and real estate industries to drive the local economy, she said.
"Marbella is very similar to Hilton Head. It's a residential-tourism community. ... It has that close-knit community feel, but is welcoming to visitors, which is very similar to Hilton Head."
Stanbridge, 49, is president of CCG, a firm of accountants, lawyers and payroll specialists based in Marbella. She has been working in southern Spain since 2002 to provide services to Spanish and international companies. She divides her time between Hilton Head, London and Marbella, spending two weeks overseas and then three weeks on Hilton Head, on average.
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In October, the Andalusia state government in Spain and the Malaga Chamber of Commerce gave her their top annual awards for her contributions to economic development in the country.
Oscar Fernandez, a Marbella City Council member, said it's remarkable for an American to receive the recognition Stanbridge has in Spain.
"She's made a big impact, especially in pulling together the foreign community in Marbella," Fernandez said.
Marbella has more than 100 different nationalities and a foreign community of about 50,000, out of a total population near 200,000, he said.
Stanbridge has helped foreigners who came to the region set up hundreds of companies, generating millions of dollars, Fernandez said.
"It is so important to have people like Laura to interact with so many communities. This kind of public relations activity is so important for this community," he said.
She received special recognition in May from the city of Marbella for her efforts to forge economic ties with the United States on behalf of the city. She orchestrated an official trip by the city's mayor to the United States, and he became the first Spanish mayor to close the NASDAQ stock exchange. The mayor also met with U.S. business and government leaders and the news media, Stanbridge said.
In August, she was appointed by the Marbella mayor to coordinate international press coverage of first lady Michelle Obama's vacation to the region.
Stanbridge studied foreign affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., commercial law at the University of South Carolina and completed an executive program at Harvard University. She said she chose to live on Hilton Head because it was the place she felt most comfortable after visiting clients here several years ago. She chose Spain because she saw a need there for international business services. The area experienced an influx of foreign business in early 2000, making southern Spain one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, she said.
Stanbridge said she hopes to bring international businesses to South Carolina and the Lowcountry.
"The U.S. has been an untapped market for Spanish companies," she said. "I see my work as an opportunity to draw business and economic development for the state -- opportunities to find Spanish companies who are looking to move to the U.S. and have them relocate to South Carolina."