WisBusiness: Former Ambassador Graber touts Europe as positive option for state firms

By Tracy Will

For WisBusiness.com

WISCONSIN DELLS — A former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic told state business leaders Wednesday that Eastern Europe has one of the most hospitable investment climates in the world.

“These are stable democracies,” Rick Graber told WMC’s Leadership Summit at the Chula Vista Resort. “Eastern Europe is the best way to access Western Europe.

“They are important voices in EU and NATO, good friends of the United States, and residents of Eastern Europe have memories of Communism that are extremely vivid and (they) will not return to the past.”

Graber told the summit that businesses will find “cheap skilled labor in already-industrialized countries.”

“They remain ripe for foreign investment,” he said. The former Wisconsin Republican Party chair pinpointed Romania and Bulgaria for basic manufacturing and assembly, adding that the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are more advanced and offer higher-skilled workers.

He also discussed his work as ambassador.

“Among my proudest achievements were getting the Czech legislature to pass bills permitting location of missile defense radar in the Czech Republic,” Graber said, adding, “thanks to the efforts of President George W. Bush.”

Graber said the Obama administration has yet to take a firm position on these missile defense installations. “I believe they have not made up their minds yet,” Graber said.

UW-Madison political scientist Nils Ringe presented a brief tutorial on business opportunities in Europe.

“The European Union law supersedes national laws, so when the European Union develops a policy it is generally more favorable to business,” Ringe said.

Poor European nations that were latecomers to the EU enjoyed massive investment incentives when they joined, explaining Ireland’s rapid rise as the “Celtic Tiger,” Ringe said.

Graber recommended Wisconsin businesses seeking to do business in Europe follow three main approaches:

— Select an adviser or partner who knows the region, who has lived there and understands differences between a parliamentary system versus the U.S. system;

— Take advantage of services offered by embassies located around the world. They offer free advice and maintain good connections with business;

— And work with the American Chambers of Commerce around the world, as they are very helpful advocates for U.S.-based businesses.