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Nordic region trade mission builds connections to Alabama (with video)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama –- The headline in the Norwegian financial newspaper — “Look to Alabama” —  sent the perfect message for Alabama officials on a Nordic region trade mission.

A delegation of Alabama trade officials, business executives and university representatives traveled recently to Norway and Sweden on a weeklong business development and trade mission, prompting coverage in the Finansavisen business daily. While on the mission, the Alabama business officials got a chance to meet potential trade partners in the two countries, and the university representatives talked with Nordic counterparts about research activities.

“I think there were a lot of good connections made,” said Hilda Lockhart, director of the International Trade Division of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The feedback has been very good, very positive.”

Finansavisen published a story on the Alabama group’s effort to develop closer ties to Norwegian companies and identify new business partners. Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield led the state delegation at a March 12 reception at Villa Otium, the U.S. Embassy in Oslo.

“The purpose of the trip is to find opportunities for collaboration with Norwegian businesses, particularly in research,” Canfield said, according to the publication.

The Villa Otium session was designed to target opportunities in fields such as life sciences, pharmaceutical and health care. Representatives from Alabama universities made presentations on research initiatives and held discussions with officials from the Oslo Cancer Cluster, a Norwegian research organization.

“The Southeastern state can boast an advantageous tax regime, low bureaucracy, a modern deepwater port and low energy costs,” Finansavisen reported. “In addition, Canfield promoted a flexible workforce with a very low proportion of workers who are unionized.”

Lockhart said the Norway/Sweden trip was meant to promote Alabama to businesses in the Nordic region, particularly those focused on bioscience, renewable energy and cancer research.  Alabama companies export nearly $200 million in goods to Nordic countries each year, while the two-way trade tops $300 million annually.

“It all fit very well together,” Lockhart said about the mission. “Our companies feel like they opened some new doors.”

In Oslo, U.S. Embassy staff briefed the Alabama delegation on the Norwegian economy, and the American Chamber of Commerce discussed U.S. investment and possibilities for collaboration. The reception at Villa Otium offered networking opportunities for the Alabama visitors.

While in Norway, Canfield visited Aker Solutions, an Oslo-based company that makes umbilicals at a facility in Theodore near Mobile. Last year, Aker Solutions said it planned to expand the facility, adding 25 jobs to a workforce of 185. Umbilicals carry fiber optics, electrical cables and hydraulic fluid from oil and gas platforms to the ocean floor.

The delegation traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, a few days later, where Alabama business representatives again held one-on-one sessions with potential commercial partners and university officials made presentations on research being performed in the state. (Represented on the trip were Auburn University Research & Technology Foundation, the Mitchell Cancer Center at the University of South Alabama, the UAB Research Foundation and the Center for Economic Development and the Alabama International Trade Center, both at the University of Alabama.)

“We are looking for collaborative relationships. We feel like this is the first step to encourage more Swedish technology to come to the state of Alabama, through some two-way trade activities,” Lockhart said.

The Alabama Department of Commerce is evaluating potential business connections made during the trip, though it typically takes about six months for the picture to become clear after a trade mission. On an encouraging note, members of the Alabama bioscience contingent have been invited back to the region for a conference.

Lockhart said the mission served one goal by getting out the message that Alabama would make a good home for Nordic companies. For one thing, favorable legislation in Alabama makes investment easy, she said. Plus, Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha is the cornerstone of a new biotechnology park in the nation’s second largest research park, and the state’s universities have a history of partnering with companies on research and development activities, she added.

Other Alabama advantages include a solid workforce and highly rated training programs, the state’s right-to-work status and a business climate that ranks near the top among the states.

Finansavisen told its readers that Alabama is an “excellent springboard to the U.S.”

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