Reaching Out to Potential U.S. Exporters at "Sweden Week"

Posted by Matthew Barzun
May 19, 2010
Man Throws Fish at Pike Place in Seattle

Learn more:World Trade WeekAbout the Author: Matthew W. Barzun serves as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.

Seattle really does look just like Sweden. Pine trees sloping down to rocky shores and water in every direction you turn. More sailboats than cars it seems. Biofuels at the gas station. The first week of May was Sweden Week in Seattle, Washington, a leading green city in the United States. This week-long celebration is an example of the deep and fruitful cultural history of Sweden's influence in this region.

There is much indeed to celebrate about the past. Of course, "Sweden Week" was about the future, too. That's why I went to Seattle, to participate in the annual "Edays Conference," organized by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce USA. It focused on three themes -- medical-tech, clean tech, and mobile IT. This gave me a chance to meet with American companies who want to expand into Sweden -- big ones like Microsoft and Boeing and future big companies like Twisted Pair, Inc. and E3 energy. It also gave me a chance to meet with Swedish companies who have large presences in the U.S. already -- Ericsson and ABB -- and smaller ones who want to grow operations in the United States, like Polarn O. Pyrat. We also met with Swedish, Washington State, and Seattle City officials to discuss future cooperation in urban sustainability.

Amid all the proper celebrations of the past and planning for the future, we were given an unexpected “hands-on” lesson about the present. Seattle is famous for the Pike Place market made even more famous by a television commercial that showed the guys at the market throwing giant salmon to one another. Two of the fish-throwing professionals actually came into the conference center in their bright orange rubber overalls. They stepped to the podium and asked for volunteers from a “list.” My name was called out. I was to told to stand four meters away from the guy and catch the fish. I am happy to report that I caught the fish.

The fish-thrower-in-chief explained why this tradition started. Every day at the market one of them would have to walk the fish from the truck at the loading dock to the table filled with ice -- this took lots of time. It was easier to throw it. So they tried that. It worked. And, more importantly, it was fun to throw fish. And fun to catch fish. They developed a whole language of call and response each time they threw the fish. The efficiency was what made them start doing it but it was the fun that made it last and made it grow. A good lesson to keep in mind as we push to make advances in technology, be it medical, clean, or mobile.

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