Local Roots, Global Reach: Welcoming State of Georgia and Gwinnett County Commercial Promotion Delegation to Sweden

This week, US Embassy Stockholm welcomes to Sweden an 8-member delegation from the U.S. state of Georgia and Gwinnett County.  I was thrilled to host the delegation at my residence for a dinner discussion on their strategy to build links between Georgia and Sweden.  The delegation was in Sweden to meet with existing investors and future investors to advance their commercial engagement with Georgia and the United States.

At the US residence, we was able to introduce the delegation to some of Sweden’s most innovative companies.  What followed was an absolutely constructive and lively discussion on economic development and cultural ties between our two countries.  The delegation was led by Ms. Charlotte Nash, Chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners; Dr. Daniel Kaufman, President and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson.

The connections between Sweden and the State of Georgia are broad and deep, and are symbolic of the close linkages between the US and Sweden, which are stronger than ever before.  Georgia is host to 56 Swedish companies and their 153 facilities, approximately half of which are in Gwinnett County near Atlanta. Over 8,600 Georgians are employed by these Swedish firms.  It is so inspiring to see how Georgia and Gwinnett County are building on these existing business ties and working to grow and build through economic innovations such as the state’s Quick Start Workforce Training Program.

Sweden’s connections with Georgia extend far beyond investments however and include a sister city relationship between Vaxjo and Savannah, Georgia.  I have been to Vaxjo during my tenure here in Sweden and can attest to the vibrancy of its loval economy and the great opportunity that exists for even more linkages with the US.  Sweden also has an outstanding Consulate in Atlanta and a very active Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce.

It was just a wonderful evening celebrating the ties between Sweden and the State of Georgia.  During my tenure here in Sweden, I have hosted US President and Georgian Jimmy Carter, US Senator From Georgia Johnny Isakson, who co-chairs the US Congress’ Swedish Caucus.  It was a privilege to host in Sweden another delegation of great Georgians, including Ms. Charlotte Nash, Chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners; Dr. Daniel Kaufman, President and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson, and the rest of this strong delegation.

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Power Africa

I am very excited to welcome Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to Stockholm for his second visit in less than a year.  His visit underscores the strong and continuing partnership between Sweden and the United States and commemorates the one year mark of the signing of a formal agreement on international development cooperation.

One of the defining areas of cooperation under the agreement will be the focus of a meeting taking place on October 22 here in Stockholm.  The United States and Sweden are bringing together donors, institutional investors, and multilateral organizations to discuss how to help mobilize private capital at scale for investment in African infrastructure, particularly in the energy sector. These investments are necessary to maintain strong growth and in particular, to make growth inclusive and alleviate poverty.

The meeting builds on the groundwork that was laid during a roundtable meeting on August 3, 2014, in connection with the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit held in Washington, when the Government of Sweden formally announced a commitment to catalyse up to one billion U.S. dollars over the next ten years in support of President Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Sweden’s bilateral financial pledge for Power Africa represented the first such partnership between the United States and another donor government on this important initiative.  Together with the earlier U.S. pledge of seven billion over the first five-year phase, the funds will be aimed at doubling access to electricity in energy poor sub-Saharan Africa where approximately two-thirds of the population now live without access.

The irony is that Africa has tremendous renewable energy potential, ranging from geothermal to abundant solar and wind power.  Power Africa targets precisely the development of these abundant resources while helping Africa avoid a rise in carbon emissions – something which is not just in the interest of African nations.   Moreover, Power Africa is a private sector led initiative; total private sector commitments to date amount to more than $20 billion.

Attention-grabbing headlines about Africa in both the Swedish and American media often focus the public’s attention on the crisis of the day — terrorist acts, deadly diseases, or the latest armed conflict.  People miss the broader perspective and larger story about a continent that is on the rise.  It is precisely this unparalleled African transformation that has led to a new partnership between Sweden and the United States strategically focused on providing Africa with the tools and conditions to generate its own clean, renewable energy and skip a dirty, fossil fuel-based phase of development.

The focus of Power Africa is on helping African countries create the right conditions to attract private sector investment in the field of renewable energy, largely through regulatory environment reform, loans, and financial service products.  The sad truth is that Africa, despite giving off fewer greenhouse gases than any other part of the world, is one of the places most heavily impacted by climate change.  And these climactic changes have consequences for political stability.  For example, diminishing water resources and shrinking harvest in some parts of the continent leave communities increasingly vulnerable to conflict and violence.

The Swedish and U.S. collaboration on Power Africa goes beyond the day-to-day excellent coordination and cooperation that our respective development agencies already enjoy; it reflects a genuine alignment of vision and goals about helping a continent seize this moment of promise when it can finally lift itself from strife, poverty, and disease.   Africa is now home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, numerous multiparty democracies, and vibrant, innovative communities.  Sweden and the United States see that the tipping point has come that we can help Africa consolidate these gains and help put the continent on a trajectory to grow even further.

In making this commitment to Africa, Sweden and the United States are taking a long-term perspective.  It is inevitable that as Africa’s prosperity expands, so will the prosperity of our two nations.  History has repeatedly shown that stable, secure, and prosperous nations make the best partners in mutually beneficial trade and investment.  Today, for example, 11 out of America’s top 15 trading partners once received U.S. foreign assistance.  Likewise, security and stability in Africa means greater security at home in Sweden and America.  Communities with few economic prospects become breeding grounds for trans-national crime, political instability, armed conflict, and even terrorism.  Such developments end up costing our countries billions of dollars in additional law enforcement, border protection, and peacekeeping forces.  We simply cannot afford to continue viewing Africa as a world apart.  We are now far too interconnected to ignore these linkages — Africa’s challenges are our challenges.

The strength of the Swedish and U.S. shared values on sustainable development will be the driving force in helping African societies build the capacity for transformational change through Power Africa.   And the success of the U.S. -Swedish commitment on Power Africa will not be measured in the amount of dollars and kronor spent, but as President Obama described it by “whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.”  By working jointly, the United States and Sweden can help African nations build the capacity for transformational change in the energy sector.  The transformational change will not only help Africans build a sustainable, clean energy sector but will also help weave economic well-being, security, and better governance more deeply in the rich tapestry of people on the African continent.

According to an African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone.  But if you want to go far, go together.”   There are no two better partners to make this Power Africa journey together than Sweden and the United States.   It is our long-term perspective and commitment to common values that will carry us through to the journey’s end.  And one day after we have stayed the course, the barrage of attention-grabbing negative headlines about Africa will become a thing of the past.

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Art as a Bridge: Jeff Koons in Sweden

This weekend, US Embassy Stockholm celebrated creativity! We welcomed to Sweden the iconic American artist Jeff Koons. At the US residence, we invited in a large cross section of Swedish society (we had more than 200 guests) to meet Jeff Koons‎. We also invited young artists from immigrant-rich neighborhoods in Stockholm to present their work to Jeff Koons, and to share their hopes and aspirations with all of us. The organization “Voices of the Suburbs” and the Botkyrka Art Center joined with the US Embassy to present a vernisage of the young artists work. The crowd who attended Saturday night just loved it!

The center of attention of the evening was Jeff Koons, who personifies the powerful and constructive voice of creativity. His unique perspective has transformed how we perceive art. His “Balloon Dog” is on display now at Moderna Museet ‎in Stockholm, and the piece just shows Koons’ versatility and genius.

Jeff‎ has also been a much valued contributor to the State Department’s Art in Embassies program. It was terrific to share with him the Art in Embassies program we have in Sweden. The art on display at the US residence is from Chicago. Art as a bridge, art as a vehicle for multiculturalism and integration is the underlying inspiration of our Art in Embassies program.

In the course if the evening, we did something very special: we asked every single person, starting with Koons himself,‎ to “make their mark” on a canvas we set up in the main room. Every one was invited to place some sort of mark on the canvas. People drew all kinds of designs, and the result was really magnificent!

It was just an incredible evening celebrating creativity with a man who epitomises it, and It was just an incredible evening celebrating creativity with a man who epitomises it, and connecting with young people who just may be their generation’s Jeff Koons!

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Creative Cities Alliance Launched between Austin, Texas and Luleå, Sweden

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I was so pleased to assist in the launching on September 3rd in the newest partnership between two innovative and dynamic cities: Austin, Texas and Luleå, Sweden.  I have spent time in both, and while they couldn’t be more geographically different, they share the same exciting buzz of communities on an upward trajectory.  I lived in Austin for a summer and grew to deeply love the Hill Country and Lake Travis.  Since becoming Ambassador to Sweden, I have visited Luleå on multiple occasions and truly enjoy the beauty of Luleå’s tranquil pine forests and picturesque Gammalstad (Old Town) on the banks of the Lule River.

Such alliances between municipalities form the strong backbone of the U.S.-Swedish relationship, and the people-to-people relationships, business networks, cross investment, artistic collaboration, and educational alliances crafted through these affiliations anchor the framework of how our two societies interact.  Building foreign relations is not the sole prerogative of national level governments – in fact, it actually works better when individual people and communities are knit together through the type of alliances that Luleå and Austin have committed to.  And in today’s digital word, geographic distance plays only a negligible role in these two cities’ ability to network and collaborate in a myriad of ways.  We are only limited by our imaginations.

What experience has shown is that the most successful city partnerships are those based on similar interests and shared values.  In this regard, I can’t think of two cities that are more suitably linked.  Both Austin and Luleå are thriving centers for innovation: Austin consistently ranks among the most innovative communities in the U.S., and Luleå – home to Facebook’s first European data center and the Node Pole – is rapidly becoming a tech hub of Europe.  On the arts front, Austin has made a name for itself through its defining music scene and SXSW, an annual music, film, and interactive conference.  Likewise, Luleå has vibrant live music scene and the Luleå Culture House dedicated to the advancement of the arts.  And for education and research, the two cities are top in their class.   University of Texas at Austin consistently ranks among the top public schools in the U.S., and Luleå’s University of Technology – Scandinavia’s northernmost school of technology – is rapidly making a name for its applied research and world-class collaboration with national and international companies.  Such similarities can be found across the spectrum of the two cities’ multifaceted characters.

Like all city partnerships, success is fueled by individual relationships.  Knowing the pioneering, vibrant, and warmhearted people of both Austin and Luleå, I can only begin to imagine the directions and possibilities of this new partnership.   As with all U.S.-Swedish municipal partnerships, I and the rest of the U.S. Embassy team in Stockholm stand prepared to support and assist as needed.  I wish Austin and Luleå every success in their new alliance together.

 

 

 

One Year Later

President Barack Obama is introduced by Amb. Mark Brzezinski at an Embassy meet and greet at the Grand Hotel Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama is introduced by Amb. Mark Brzezinski at an Embassy meet and greet at the Grand Hotel Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two months ago, I stood in the beautiful U.S. Capitol Rotunda for the inspiring ceremony to bestow the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal.  Wallenberg, by daring not to be indifferent, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II through a joint U.S. and Swedish government program.  The story of Raoul Wallenberg is an exceptional confirmation of the value our two countries place on protecting human dignity and upholding the principles of tolerance and inclusivity.  As President Obama noted in his remarks at Stockholm’s Synagogue one year ago,  “…we’re reminded [by Raoul Wallenberg] of our basic obligations:  to recognize ourselves in each other; to treat one another with compassion; to reach out to the less fortunate among us; to do our part to help repair our world.  These values are at the heart of the great partnership between Sweden and the United States.”

The Gold Medal Ceremony was an archetype moment of Sweden and the U.S. working together.  Today, one year after President Obama’s visit to Sweden, is a fitting time to highlight how the Swedish-American relationship has further expanded since the visit.  It is no coincidence that President Obama’s visit occurred during a period of unprecedented cooperation and alignment between our two countries. And it is no coincidence that since then the relationship between Sweden and the U.S. has only become more robust and more strategic when facing global challenges.

As President Obama said of Sweden and the U.S., “We stand up for universal human rights, not only in America and in Europe, but beyond, because we believe that when these rights are respected, nations are more successful and our world is safer and more just.”   Sweden and the U.S. collaborate on global development initiatives more closely than ever before.  Sida is the largest partner of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  Together, the development agencies jointly combat poverty in innovative ways, with a focus on agriculture, sustainable energy, and democracy.  Sweden has committed to catalyze investments of up to one billion dollars, or 6.8 billion SEK, to Power Africa, President Obama’s program to electrify Africa.  Sweden is the first country to formally join this project.  This commitment follows discussion between President Obama and Swedish stakeholders during his visit to Stockholm last September, when parties affirmed at the dinner with other Nordic Leaders their intent to support Power Africa and to promote more efficient power systems in Africa.

Around the time of President Obama’s visit to Stockholm, the crisis in Syria was in some of its darkest days.  Today, 12 months later, the suffering in Syria continues, as it does around the world from Ukraine to Iraq to Libya.  The need for the international community to stand up for the rights of others has perhaps never been so urgent.  One year ago, President Obama and Prime Minister Reinfeldt stood in agreement about the need to protect human rights and the imperative of the triumph of the rule of law.  Today, one year later, the common resolve between our two countries has never been stronger and our two countries must continue to be active and effective voices in defending dignity around the world.

While in Stockholm, President Obama also paid a visit to the Royal Institute of Technology.  There he met with researchers and viewed several innovative clean energy technologies.  Sweden and the U.S. have demonstrated a shared commitment to supporting the development of innovative technologies and cleaner energy solutions that are at the core of our strategy to address climate change and have a less carbon-dependent future.  President Obama’s Climate Action Plan has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, provided funding to advance renewable energy technology, and helped cities prepare for climate change with fortification against increasingly severe storms and droughts.  We will continue our work with Sweden and the international community to keep moving forward in this area. I believe that the best way to tackle the challenges of climate change is together, so I think it is of the utmost importance that as both countries innovate to find what works, we support exchanges of ideas and programs.

Engaging with issues related to the Arctic was a priority for President Obama during his visit to Sweden, reflecting the Arctic’s position as both a domestic and global policy priority for the U.S.  As we consider how to best preserve the region’s biodiversity while helping Arctic communities reach their fullest potential, we turn to partners like Sweden, who’s successful chairmanship of the Arctic Council is a model such engagement.   During his visit, President Obama convened with Nordic leaders last September and discussed the impacts of climate change on the Arctic.  We value the shared commitment to the Arctic and see this as the ideal foundation for achievement.  The U.S. considers Sweden to be an especially invaluable ally; we look forward to a future in which our countries collaborate to protect and to research the Arctic environment and to encourage sustainable development, keeping in mind always the indigenous communities.  It is our highest priority is to protect the Arctic – our people, our territory, our natural resources – and I am happy to say that Sweden shares this conviction.

Reflecting back on the past twelve months, it is correct to say that the partnership between the United States and Sweden could not possibly be stronger.  President Obama’s visit helped make a solid relationship even more expansive.  I am convinced that our cooperation, which is based in set of common core values and ideals, will continue to expand and flourish.

Tough Viking!

This past summer I bicycled across Sweden, from the water’s edge of Sweden’s West Coast, to the water’s edge of Sweden’s East Coast.  I did it to promote TTIP and trade, and I thought it was the physically most difficult thing I would do in my stay in Sweden – after all, one day we biked over 100 kilometers through rain and wind, and
around Örebro there were many many trucks…

Tough Viking US + Sweden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But that was until I had the pleasure of joining the US Embassy “Tough Viking” competition team this past Saturday here in Stockholm.  Now I can say categorically that was the physically most difficult undertaking I have done here in Sweden – and I loved every minute of it!!  The Tough Viking competition is a 15 kilometer obstacle course that spans the big field of Gärdet, and continues along the footpaths next to the Baltic Sea.  It involved running through burning bales of hay, climbing over ship container after ship container, crawling under barbed wire and swimming through icy swamps, jumping into barrels of ice water, climbing up huge ramps, swimming in the sea, and, of course being electrocuted at the end!

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It was my absolute honor to join with a number of colleagues and family members here at the Embassy in doing this event.  To say the least, I could never have completed the event without their help and support, and I did my utmost to contribute to our US Embassy team.

Tough Viking team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started, as a team, and we finished as a team, and there was nothing more awesome then coming in together, with a member of staff calling out cadences.

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It was a wonderful event, it was a wonderful team building exercise, it was a challenge unlike any I will probably do in my life, and it was another awesome memory that I have from our wonderful stay in Sweden.

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And I cheer all my fellow Tough Vikings – from the Swedish military that participated as a team, to the police and volunteers who supported the event – to fellow challengers with whom we all share a uniquely Swedish memory!!

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SKF takes on the innovation and research challenge

Yesterday, I read in the press that Sweden’s SKF Group has decided to establish a new North American research and development facility in the United States. The new investment will be based in Naperville, Illinois and is expected to create 40 full-time jobs in two years and another 40 within four years. The new 130,000-square-foot facility will house engineers, scientists and administrative staff.

SKF President and CEO Tom Johnstone noted that choosing Naperville meant that SKF would have a central location and with “proximity to many local world class research universities and a highly-educated workforce.”

As some of you know I just completed a bike trip through Sweden to highlight the importance of strengthening bilateral trade and investment, T-TRIP. This new facility is a perfect example of how such a trade and investment partnership could provide high-technology jobs for many Americans but also further expand the important research connections with U.S. universities.

SKF already has 28 manufacturing sites in the U.S. It’s not a coincidence that more and more world-leading companies such as SKF are choosing to invest in the United States. According to the latest data released by the Department of Commerce this spring, other companies are also attracted by what the United States is offering: a competitive business environment, a highly educated workforce, concrete IT infrastructure, and transparent rule of law. As a result, foreign direct investment has risen from $160 billion in 2012 to $187.5 billion in 2013.

Together with Sweden, we are building on these research and business ties. Together with other partners in the EU, we are helping companies like SKF grow and build their businesses through access to innovation, research and consumers, thereby creating new jobs and partnerships in the U.S. and Sweden. T-TIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a cornerstone of this future.

An Incredible T-TRIP Adventure Across Sweden!

Yesterday was the first day in a week’s time that I was not biking an average of 90 kilometers through the Swedish heartland – and I am actually sad about it!  Me and several colleagues from the Embassy have just completed a trans-Sweden bicycle trip, from the water’s edge on the West Coast, in Gothenburg, to the water’s edge on the East Coast, in Stockholm.  It was simply one of the best things I have done in my two and half years in Sweden.  Through the bike trip, I had the chance to engage with Swedes in towns, villages and cities I had not been to before, and to listen and learn and interpret what it is the U.S. Government is trying to do especially in the area of trade, but also security, education and other topics.

The bike trip, termed ‘T-TRIP,’ highlighted the benefits of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—-the proposed US-EU free trade and investment agreement-—to stakeholders around the country, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In the course of seven days, we undertook a remarkable program that allowed the Embassy’s T-TRIP team to engage an incredibly wide range of stakeholders, ranging from small farmers, business leaders, local and regional officials, University heads and professors and students, immigrant leaders, major corporations, to one of the most influential former Swedish Prime Ministers. This program allowed us to listen and learn, and to interpret for our friends in Sweden what the U.S. Government is trying to do here, in the Nordic region, in Europe on trade and other topics.

Biking more than 400 miles (roughly 650km) over seven days, our T-TRIP bike team visited nine cities and met with dozens of business owners, entrepreneurs, local government officials, and others in order to learn about local industry and commerce and to share thoughts on how T-TIP could benefit us all. While primarily focused on advancing T-TIP, the trip also allowed me to meet with many other people to talk about key issues in our bilateral relationship.

There are few better ways to connect with the wonderful people of Sweden or learn more about how the people feel in the heartland about trade and commerce. It was an ideal way for the Embassy to share our perspectives and goals with Swedish society.

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The T-TRIP team with Gothenburg Mayor Anneli Hulthén in the historic Port of Gothenburg

Our journey started last Friday in Gothenburg.  The Mayor of Gothenburg, Anneli Hulthén, greeted us herself on a bike and we rode together to the Port of Gothenburg, where we took a boat tour of the remarkable infrastructure that allows this Port to be the partner in trade that it is.  The Port of Gothenburg, the largest port in the Nordics, is a site of historical and contemporary connections between the U.S. and Sweden. During my visit, I and the T-TRIP team toured the facilities and learned about the ways the Port functions as a link between Sweden and the U.S. In the nineteenth century, over one million emigrating Swedes began their journey to the U.S. at Gothenburg’s port. Today, it is a main hub for trade between Sweden and the U.S., with two container ships sailing directly to U.S. ports each week.  During my visit, I also met with Kim Ullman of Stena Lines Shipping Group, a global conglomerate based in Gothenburg with operations in the U.S.  Stena is an example of a Gothenburg corporate citizen that is engaged around the world.

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With 3M Sweden’s Country Director and T-TRIP Guest Rider Lars Näslund. Lars is also the Chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden. Here we are pointing to a street sign made with 3M technology

And then we started our bike ride across Sweden.  We biked to the historic Swedish trading center of Alingsås the first day.  The team participated in a walking tour of Alingsås’ historic center, which highlighted local legacies of industrialization, commerce, and manufacturing. Afterwards, Embassy representatives, local business leaders, and members of the City Council met to discuss T-TIP. We also met several young entrepreneurs who would benefit from an agreement and are excellent examples of how T-TIP will help expand the innovative start-up scene in the U.S. and Sweden even further.

The next day we biked to Falköping, where we engaged with two important sectors for this region – dairy production and sustainable energy. The team met with young farmers, representatives from the Swedish Farmers Confederation, and local milk producers, and took part in a tour of a dairy research farm. I stressed that trade in dairy products between the U.S. and Europe could be greatly bolstered by the passage of T-TIP. The T-TRIP team also toured Falbygdens Energi, Sweden’s first energy storage plant facility for low voltage networks. We discussed the ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Sweden in the sector of green technology and sustainable energy. The representatives from Falbygdens Energi emphasized that expanding trade through T-TIP would allow clean energy technologies and renewable fuel solutions such as these to be shared more easily with the U.S.

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At the University of Skövde

Our next stop was the University of Skövde, where we met with students, faculty, and municipality representatives for a roundtable discussion of what T-TIP would mean for the future of innovative and creative technologies. Skövde is the largest educational center for gaming and computer science in Sweden and it has recently initiated several best practices collaboration with Microsoft, Stanford and the University of Washington. Embassy staff saw how gaming technology can be applied for beneficial secondary uses. One scientist presented his work on how computer games can rehabilitate stroke patients. A group of students working with Volvo presented their designs for lightweight solar panels what will be installed on garbage trucks.

After Skövde we met up with the Ranger Battalion at K3 Karlsborg together with officers who had served in international peace keeping operations around the world. It was an honor to be hosted by Chief of Staff, Börje Berkelind, and his team of officers. We also met with small and medium-sized Swedish companies to discuss the benefits and challenges of the T-TIP.  I pointed out that one of the key goals of T-TIP is to reduce trade barriers that can burden SMEs, which have fewer resources to overcome such barriers.

On the way to Mariefred, I and the T-TRIP team made a stop in Stjärnhov for a house tour and a coffee break with the former Prime Minister Göran Persson. We discussed foreign policy, T-TIP, and sustainable energy. Upon arriving in Mariefred, I and my team had dinner with the local business owners and startup entrepreneurs hosted by Inger Grindelid, current acting chief of the municipality of Strängnäs.

Stopping by for a 'fika' with former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson

Stopping by for a ‘fika’ with former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson

The group consisted of a diverse group of young professionals, displaying everything from gym owners, local wine distillers and a green tech car pool company that reached out to the Embassy for new clients.

On our last day of biking we visited Södertälje.  The city of Södertälje alone hosts more displaced Syrian/Iraqi children than a dozen of other EU-countries combined. The T-TRIP team met with the current Mayor Boel Godner, NGO´s, teachers and representatives from the Syrian Orthodox Church. In the conversation, we learned of programs in Södertälje to promote integration. I explained how at the Embassy we’ve been connecting Americans and Swedes to exchange best practices on promoting tolerance and integration.

The T-TRIP team spent the afternoon at the Scania Factory, employing about 10,000 individuals in Södertälje, learning how T-TIP could help companies like Scania grow their business and create new jobs. Scania executives noted that the combination of customs duties and regulatory hurdles have hindered greater business and investment in the U.S.  The team also discussed SelectUSA as a means to expand their investments in the U.S. We also got to test drive several of Scania’s busses and trucks.

On the final leg of the trip, a number of guest riders joined the T-TRIP team for the ride in to Stockholm.  The journey concluded at Carnegie Brewery—a joint venture between Carlsberg and Brooklyn Brewery.  Stockholm is Brooklyn Brewery’s second

We made it!  Our arrival in Stockholm

We made it! Our arrival in Stockholm
(Thanks to the Local for the photo!)

largest market outside of New York City.  Minister of Trade Ewa Björling greeted us along our friends from the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden, the American Club and the Embassy community.

I can say categorically that this bicycle adventure is one of the best engagements I have had in Sweden. We were able to get out into the countryside, meet wonderful people, and get to know this beautiful country much better. Our ’T-TRIP’ also helped us highlight the strong ties between the U.S. and Sweden and see first hand how T-TIP could create jobs, give consumers more choice, grow our economies and make the connection between the U.S. and Sweden even stronger.

It was a highly worthwhile and enjoyable adventure.

Check our our Embassy’s Tumblr for more stories and photos from the trip.

Celebrating National Day in Sweden: A Top-Ten List

June 6 is Sweden’s National Day.  Every July 4, which is America’s Independence Day, I always think of what I love about America, the fact that we embrace equality, that we are a land of immigrant diversity (including my own family and that of my wife’s), of the beautiful topography and of the uniqueness of each one of our fifty states and our territories, of the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in the military and all those in public service.

A bike ride outside of Stockholm

A bike ride outside of Stockholm

So as a guest living in Sweden, and as President Obama’s personal representative to this country, I thought I would offer the top ten things I love about Sweden – and, I have to add, there are more:

1)      The genuine conviction I witness in Sweden that human dignity and human rights are worth fighting for, and advancing the world over, whether in Eastern Europe or the Middle East and North Africa and beyond.  Gender equality, the fight against gender and racial and LGBT discrimination, are all part of this important principle.

2)      A shared sense that we must find new and better ways to live in harmony between humankind and land – and from that a deep conviction that sustainability and innovating ways to live in the future that do not exploit the world’s precious resources.

3)      A history of social equality, both at home and abroad, and that we must help those who need a helping hand or who cannot help themselves.  This is a prosperous country, and it is nice to see that its prosperity is shared generously to the far corners of the globe with the desire to improve lives everywhere.

4)      The fact that (and I say this as a Father of a five year old) children can be taken everywhere in Sweden, from the boardroom to the office meeting to the diplomatic lunch, I have seen Swedish parents towing their toddlers because Mom or Dad had to be in that meeting, and it’s OK for junior to come along too.  This is a very welcoming society of children.

5)      The absolutely gorgeous Archipelago – with its thousands of islands big and small.  Many visitors to Sweden are surprised to learn that in the Archipelago there are not strong tides, and you can go rather far out in to the Archipelago by boat and encounter a small island with a house and trees on it.

6)      The beautiful harmonizing of Swedish music, which is also reflected in the country’s rich choral tradition.  Many Swedes I know are or have been part of a choir, and the singing and music made in this country is just gorgeous.  The upcoming Polar Prize for Music in August is a remarkable reflection of how impressive Sweden’s music culture is – and, by the way, I am so proud that this year both Polar Prize laureates are American musicians Chuck Berry and Peter Sellars!

7)      Bicycling around Stockholm and beyond.  You can bicycle everywhere in Sweden, and this is worth doing because the topography is so beautiful.  Nothing is more relaxing and at the same time energizing than biking through Gamla Stan (Old Town) or outside of Stockholm through lush fields and forests.

8)      The sense of space and openness you feel when you drive above the Arctic circle in Sweden, whether it’s around Kiruna, or over to the Abisko Scientific Research Station or beyond.

9)      Lagom – the Swedish word for balance, with a particular emphasis on work/life balance.  An important segment of time on the weekends and even on Friday nights is devoted to family time – which I think brings people closer, and allows for real bonding.

10)  The gorgeous museums I have visited in Sweden–whether it’s the exotic Butterfly Museum in Stockholm, the Emigrant Museum in Gothenburg, the new ABBA museum in Stockholm, the gorgeous Moderna Museet, the Aircraft Museum in Linköping, with its planes and flying contraptions that go back through the ages, or the many other exceptional displays and exhibits around this country.  One continuously learns and bears witness to the shared values America and Sweden share through what is shown in the galleries and museums around the country.

So on this Sweden National Day, I will think about these things and other things I love about Sweden, as an American immensely proud to serve my Government and the American people in this wonderful country.

Kayakers Outside of the Riksdag

Kayakers Outside of the Riksdag

photo 2

Stockholm Mini-Makers Faire

This past Sunday, I had the awesome opportunity to celebrate something special in the American-Swedish relationship:  Innovation and great science.  On Sunday afternoon, I took my four year-old daughter to the Swedish National Museum of Technology and Science (Tekniska Museet), which hosted the first ever 2014 Stockholm Mini Maker Faire.  What a terrific set of innovations and inventions, ranging from a steam-engine car developed by KTH students, to Evelyn and Javiere’s refurbished refrigerator compressor to now a paint spray gun, to a kids hackathon where my daughter and I faced off in competition in a jumping game that sent electrodes on to a screen (she won!). We also marveled over Quadrocopters, a solar and wind-driven pancake machine, a pop machine, a potato gun, and a night vision device — the spread and the imagination on display was truly phenomenal!

I hope this is the first of many Maker faires in Sweden.  What my daughter and I saw at Tekniska was a display of great ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Swedish citizens.  One of the products on display had already been acquired by a US company, and many of the inventions have local roots but global reach.  They are suitable for scale anywhere.

The first Maker Faire was held in San Mateo, California, in 2006.  The Faire is now the largest showcase of creativity and innovation in the world.  Today, there are approximately a hundred Maker faires arranged around the world each year.  I am so glad to see the movement reach Sweden.

During President Obama’s historic visit to Sweden last year, the President had this to say about innovation: “…As two of the most innovative economies on Earth, we cherish that freedom that allows us to innovate and create, which is why we’re leaders in science and research and development — those things that pioneers new industries and broaden our horizons.”

This event is a celebration of the strong local maker culture here in Sweden.  What I saw on Sunday was a context in which people of all ages, boys and girls, men and women, through their creativity and entrepreneurship affirm that Sweden truly is “a land of Makers.”  I want to express my admiration for all of the exhibitors at Tekniska yesterday, for embodying these fine qualities that have made Sweden such a strong exporting country over the last century.  You showed us that we can expect Sweden to remain a leader in technological and scientific innovation for decades to come.

It want to emphasize the diversity of age and gender that I witnessed at this faire yesterday.   Fostering an open and diverse scientific community that draws from an array of unique experiences and viewpoints is a necessary step to solving the array of global challenges.   I attended the Faire with my young daughter.  President Obama noted last year “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … that is not being encouraged…”   I was encouraged to see the representation of young women who displayed their inventions and technology.  That speaks to Sweden’s dedication to inclusiveness and equality.

I had the distinct pleasure to present the 2014 Stockholm Mini Maker Award to a Maker with an astonishing contribution to this exhibit.  This year’s Stockholm Mini Maker prize is awarded to Jonny Eriksson of Popmaskinen.  The public at the event yesterday also chose a prizewinner, and that prizewinner was Linus Backlund, who developed a night vision device that both  my daughter and I peered though.

Congratulations, and thank you Tekniska for hosting this year’s Stockholm Mini Maker Faire!