"Greek economic success is in its people"
Conference at Temple University Fox Business School
"No country can be successful without talking about the people. Greeks are educated, productive, passionate, entrepreneurial, loyal and, most of all, resilient."
Dr. George Chresanthis (Professor, Fox School of Business, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA)
At the recent Trade and Investment Seminar on Doing Business in Greece a select group of business executives, city and national trade officials and the Greek Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Christos Panagopoulos, gathered at Temple University's Fox School of Business to discuss the future of Greek/American economic opportunities.
Opening the seminar, Dr. Chresanthis addressed the greatest concern, the ongoing international recovery from the 2008 financial crisis stating that "Taking the 'glass is half full' approach to the financial crisis is an opportunity to reform economies." He was emphatic that Greece has taken measures to do just that. Citing recent EU reports, Greek market sectors are up and the sovereign debt rating has recently been raised from B- to B. Tourism in the past two years has grown dramatically – 14 million visitors in 2013 broke all previous records and 2014 estimates are to top 24 million. Annual exports to Greece approach $750 million with emerging growth sectors being tourism, agriculture, environmental science and IT/telecommunications.
Ambassador Panagopoulos was equally optimistic without covering up the challenges facing his nation. With a 27% unemployment rate and nearly half of all under 25-year-old Greeks unemployed, job creation is essential. Greeks are bearing up with a 25% cut in social benefits, says the Ambassador, but recovery will be slowed without a reduction in unemployment and regrowth among the middle class. The recent rise of the Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist political organization, the Ambassador freely admitted, is directly related to the stress felt by the middle class and unemployed Greek youth.
Yet Greece is the world's 25th largest economy despite a population of only 11 million. Business partnerships between Greece and the United States are a key factor to economic recovery and no major issues divide Greece and the USA.
Ambassador Panagopoulos presented recommendations for future economic improvement. The EU needs to address the institutional gap between the Euro and the lack of a central regulatory body, such as the USA's Federal Reserve Bank, to create currency stability.
Strategic investment is a major factor in economic recovery. Chinese and Gulf state investment in major infrastructure improvements such as in the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki as well as proposed new high-speed rail links are major triumphs.
Tourism accounts for 15% of the GDP. Tourism improvements in the near future will include casinos and better air and sea links. Natural gas and oil deposits are being explored off the coasts of Cyprus and Crete. A proposed pipeline linking Azerbaijan with Eastern Europe via Turkey and Greece may help break Russia's monopoly over energy supplies to the Balkans and parts of Western Europe.
Tony Ceballos, Director Philadelphia U.S. Export Assistance Center, helps smooth the process for USA/Greek trade for city businesses. The U.S. Export Assistance Center has Greek offices in Athens and Cyprus. Mr. Ceballos believes "Greeks have an affinity for USA products."
Mr. Ceballos supports The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. It aims at removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the USA. On top of cutting tariffs across all sectors, the EU and the USA want to tackle barriers behind borders, such as differences in technical regulations, standards and approval procedures, which often cost unnecessary time and money for companies who want to sell their products on both markets and tighten intellectual property/trademark/copyright enforcement.
Carol Brooks-Bryant, Manager of Business Services, City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce, announced a recent memorandum of understanding between the ports of Thessaloniki and Philadelphia promoting trade and business opportunities. Thessaloniki is not only the second largest city in Greece but the Mediterranean's busiest port for trade from the Balkans – a significantly growing sector of the international economy.
The Honorable George Sfedu, Consul General of Romania in Philadelphia, feels so strongly about the potential of this Eastern European sector that he wants to facilitate a Balkan economic bloc within the European Union. Counsel General Sfedu knows full well the dark past that plagued the region having arrived in Philadelphia as a young refugee in 1980, a decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. He does not discount the region's past saying, "I'm still trying to decipher the history of the Balkans." But he and Ms. Brooks-Bryant both believe that future trade relations are best established with "face-to-face communication."
Paul Kotrotsios, Publisher of The Hellenic News of America and CEO of Hermes Expo International, could not agree more with that sentiment. As a major participant in the International Trade Fair held in September at Hellexpo in Thessaloniki since 1923, Mr. Kotrotsios believes that face-to-face communication not only sells USA products but also convinces Greeks that their goods are welcomed in the American mainstream. "Connecting people," Paul states, is the objective of the International Trade Fair and Hermes Expo International.
With millions of tourists annually rediscovering four millenniums of Greek civilization, 300,000 Americans making their home in Greece and a nation of free and resilient citizens, Greece is poised to emerge from this temporary financial crisis. The business question to ask is whether the rest of the world will be ready to benefit from the opportunities that will flow out of recovery. The Olympian gods must be smiling at the propects.