MADISON — After three years of courting, most relationships lose their spark. But business leaders say more momentum than ever is gaining as the sister city relationship between Madison and Solleftea, Sweden approaches its third year.
On May 10, about 200 attendees, including 104 Swedish delegates, will convene at the third annual Swedish American Business Congress at the Jackson Hilton and Convention Center where Richard F. Scruggs, the Gulf Coast attorney who pioneered litigation to recover public health care expenditures from the tobacco industry, will be the keynote speaker.
“Usually the attention and enthusiasm have dropped off by this point, but we’re seeing an opposite reaction,” said Steve Vassallo, an economic development specialist and consultant for the City of Madison. “The international attention we’ve drawn has been the biggest surprise. If other Mississippi communities formed similar alliances with cities in Scandinavia and Norway, God knows what we could do here.”
In 1998, about 150 people attended the inaugural Congress. Last year, 56 Mississippi delegates, including mayors from Jackson, Madison, Oxford and Weir, traveled to Sweden for the second-annual Congress.
“In addition to all of the meetings in northern Sweden, we held four very important meetings in Stockholm,” Vassallo said. “Our exposure throughout Sweden has grown significantly. What we have accomplished in less than three years is nothing short of phenomenal. To have the extensive quality contacts that we enjoy today throughout Sweden is unheard of at this level of economic development. There are those that ‘talk’ going global and then there are those that ‘do.’ I am glad to say that we fall into the latter.”
Roughly 80 German companies, most with automotive ties, are located between the South Carolina cities of Greenville and Spartanburg, where economic developers have developed a niche market similar to what could happen with Mississippi and Scandinavian cities, Vassallo said.
“The joint cooperation and business relations between the City of Madison and the municipality of Solleftea is of great importance for the region and the county of Vasternorrland,” said Inger Liliequist, vice governor of the province of Vasternorrland. “The focus on information technology and forestry is of great interest of course and belongs to our most strategic issues today. The congress can be of great value for us to take part in.”
Many partnership projects are on the drawing board; others are nearly complete. A 9,000-square-foot incubator building in the Madison Business Park, in alliance with Solleftea, is scheduled to come on line soon. Designed to house up to 12 companies at one time, the program will serve as a transitional station for established Swedish companies to test market products in the U.S. before making larger financial commitments, said John Wallace, board chairman for the Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA).
Other partnerships have been in place for several years. In December, 1998, Tritel Communications Inc. and Ericsson Inc. signed an exclusive network infrastructure agreement valued at approximately $300 million for Ericsson to supply TDMA infrastructure equipment for Tritel’s PCS markets located in the southeastern U.S.
Hakan Andersson, vice president of business operations and head of the Jackson operation, said “although our global headquarters is in Sweden, Ericsson Inc. is an American company.”
Goran Berg, project leader of the Swedish Trade Council in Madison, said when a global company like Ericsson chooses to locate in the Jackson area, “you can be sure that it is the right place to be.” The Swedish Trade Council, with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York, shares office space with MCEDA.
“It will also open the eyes of other Swedish and European companies for the opportunities in this part of the U.S.,” he said. “Ericsson is a company with a huge growth potential all over the world and I would be surprised if they do not grow in Mississippi in the coming years.”
Tritel deploys the 1,900-MHz digital systems throughout Mississippi and Alabama and parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia and Ericsson provides a comprehensive, wireless network solution, including the MSC 2000 and 5000, mobile switching center, operational support systems and services.
“We have been extremely pleased with their contribution to our company and to our community,” said William M. Mounger II, chairman and CEO of Tritel Communications Inc.
Two Swedish provinces and three Mississippi cities — Jackson, Meridian and Oxford — have already extended the sister city relationship beyond Madison and Solleftea. At the University of Mississippi in Oxford, a working partnership with some programs has been formed with the university in Sweden, Vassallo said.
“Especially with its forestry industry and gambling recently legalized there, Sweden and Mississippi have similarities that are natural ties,” he said. “We need to keep nurturing the relationship or like anything else, it will go away.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.