MADISON — Swedish business leaders were in town last week to garner support for the upcoming Swedish-American Business Congress and to check on progress of an incubator site in Madison that was developed as a partnership between sister cities.
At least 60 business leaders from Madison are expected to attend the second annual congress in Solleftea Sept. 16-17, 1999. About 150 business leaders attended the first congress held in Jackson last May.
Staffan Sjolund, managing director of the Solleftea Naringlslivs AB, a business development company owned by the municipality of Solleftea, said the primary focus of the Swedish-American Business Congress will involve drafting a 10-year plan for the Madison/Solleftea alliance, referred to as the “Southern Trade Bridge,” which began July 4, 1996.
“We will develop short-term objectives and longer-term objectives for our relationship,” said Sjolund. “Quite a lot of companies gathered at our national meeting in March to rally support.”
A 9,000-square-foot incubator building in the Madison Business Park will house up to 12 companies at one time when it is completed by year’s end, said Goran Berg, project leader for Exportradet, the Swedish Trade Council in Solleftea.
“Although we do not have commitments from companies yet, we are talking to three or four companies who might possibly locate here with future plans to possibly expand products to Central and South America,” said Berg. “We hope to mix six Swedish companies with six U.S. companies so they can learn from each other. Doing business in Mississippi isn’t that different from doing business at home. It’s not so much the differences, but it’s the little things that we have to learn to understand.”
Ford Motor Co.’s purchase of Volvo and GM Motor Co.’s acquisition of Saab could change the automotive manufacturing structure in Sweden, where residents are interested in vehicles, and manufacturing subcomponents. However, the forestry industry is top priority, Sjolund said.
Known for millwork and hardwood floors, Sweden has developed innovative technology in the forestry industry to capitalize on one of their greatest resources. Su Morris, an ambassador for Swedish visitors who visited Sweden last year, said watching harvesting machines in action was “absolutely fascinating.”
“We went into the forests and saw these wonderful machines that looked like tractors with claws,” Morris said. “A machine would go to a selected pine tree, measure it and cut it according to specifications from the factory. Trees in Sweden take a hundred years to grow to the size ours take 30 years to grow to because of the weather and growth time. Because their trees grow so slowly, their pine trees are tighter, more of a hardwood. The quality is better but they must also be selective.”
The agenda for the Swedish-American Business Congress will include workshops in forestry management, Swedish investments and health care.
“We want people to consider Sweden for investments like many people consider Switzerland,” Sjolund said.
Economic development and marketing go hand in hand, said Rosie Vassallo, director of Madison “The City” Chamber of Commerce.
“Our slogan is ‘Move to Madison, Mississippi, and we’ll throw in a Swedish summer home,’” she said. “We recognize that marketing is an economic development tool. You can find a golf course anywhere, but you don’t have a sister city in every town, and we know that people love to travel. Solleftea and Madison have host families that will give you the royal treatment if you let them.”