April 2, 10:00 – 10:45 AM
OTE Academy Auditorium
Kalimera! Good morning!
I want first of all to thank Vassilis, and the team for having me here today.
It is really a great pleasure for me to be part of this ReGeneration event and your introduction to the World of Business.
I want to start, first of all, by congratulating all of you on being selected for this program! Constantinos was telling me a little bit about the selection process and you should all be very proud.
It seems to me that the ReGeneration program is exactly the kind of initiative Greece needs today to cultivate the next generation of business leaders and to leverage the tremendous human capital that I see everywhere I travel in this country.
I am also very proud that this program was established with support from Coca-Cola and that it enjoys the support of the Greek-American Diaspora through The Hellenic Initiative — and of course our partners at Stavros Niarchos Foundation. It’s really great to see so many young ambitious Greek youth in this program and it really reflects well the Greece I know which is now beginning to move forward after the Greek crisis.
So I thought what I would start doing this morning is to share some thoughts about where Greece is today and the opportunities that lie ahead from the perspective of somebody who has had the privilege to live in Athens over the past three years and then have a conversation.
Greece’s exit from its series of international bailout programs marked a welcome step in the return to economic normalcy, a development that the United States strongly supports.
At this point, I see four sectors of the Greek economy that offer particular opportunities for growth that have also attracted interest from U.S. investors.
The first I would mention is the energy sector. We are seeing in Greece today the historic completion of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, the successful expansion of the Revythoussa gas terminal, and irreversible progress on the pipeline connecting Greece and Bulgaria, the IGB.
All of these projects put Greece on the world energy map as a contributor to the diversity of energy sources and as a hub for European region.
As the recent participation of my boss, Secretary of State Pompeo, in the Israel-Greece-Cyprus trilateral summit indicated, the official cooperation between the United States and Greece on these energy issues has never been stronger.
We also have a key interest in the renewable sector, with strong moves recently from American companies in the fields of wind, solar and electricity energy storage.
Transport and logistics is another area where the Greek economy is growing and is attracting international investments, including from U.S. companies. In one example, since last April, the Greek-American company Onex has serviced and repaired 38 ships at the shipyard in Syros, creating more than 300 jobs in the process and helping to revive this important economic asset that was, literally, rusting away when I first visited Syros in 2017.
Of course, the largest driver of growth in Greece in recent years is the tourism sector. U.S. investors ranging from Marriott and Hyatt to Airbnb are benefitting from and helping to drive the rapid extension of visitors to Greece.
We’re excited to see the further expansion of direct air connections from the U.S. that continue to grow from expanding during the tourist season and diversifying where tourists visit.
Lastly, there’s food and agriculture. Greece has unique food products that are loved by consumers all over the world. There is great potential for growth and exports in this field, especially in the U.S. market.
And all of these opportunities for Greece’s economic development and for strengthening the U.S.-Greek economic collaboration were highlighted at the Thessaloniki International Fair last September, where the United States was the honored country.
More than 50 U.S. companies representing a wide array of innovative sectors participated in TIF – including Coca-Cola, which used TIF to launch their zero-waste initiatives. The record-breaking turnout at the American pavilion demonstrated the strength of our engagement and the potential for increasing U.S.-Greek ties going forward.
For U.S. companies and American officials based in Washington, the TIF experience demonstrated the enormous potential of Greece, and northern Greece in particular. It brought home the concept that Greece is not simply a market of 11 million, but can serve as a gateway to the wider Balkans region.
The commitment of the Greek government to take positive steps to unlock this potential creates significant new opportunities for international firms seeking to expand activities across a dynamic and growing market, and we stand ready to help in this effort and in this regard I would strongly support the trip that Prime Minister Tsipras is taking to Skopje today accompanied by a Greek business delegation.
As I hope you can all tell, I am optimistic about Greece’s economic future. My message for you is that there is great opportunity for Greece and your generation will play a vital role in how that future will be shaped.
That said a lot will depend on how the country carries forth the important work of implementing reforms to improve Greece’s competitiveness and ensure transparent business practices, including effective privatizations. Policies to promote innovation, including the protection of intellectual property rights, are also crucial for Greece to compete in the knowledge-based and creative industries.
At the Thessaloniki Fair I was especially struck by the energy and enthusiasm of youth, local innovators, and entrepreneurs, not only during the American Embassy Innovation Hub events, but particularly in the Greek government’s ‘Digital Greece’ pavilion and among the young students at the Academic pavilion.
A growing number of Greek entrepreneurs are making a difference in building innovative companies and generating new jobs. This is an under-told success story. And building entrepreneurial skills among the young generation will be critical to Greece’s success as a nation.
That’s why the U.S. Embassy is working with local partners to bring American models in entrepreneurship education and skills to Greek youth. We partner with many local entrepreneurship groups – like the MIT Enterprise Forum, Mindspace, Endeavor, Found.ation, and Orange Grove – because we firmly believe that sharing American experiences can spark important innovation successes.
We are also helping Greek businesses and startups expand their networks in the U.S. and build connections with their American counterparts. Recently for instance, we partnered with the Ministry of Digital Policy and with The Hellenic Initiative to send a delegation of Greek startups to South by Southwest, one of the top global innovation, technology and investment summits.
These initiatives, like ReGeneration, plant the seeds for Greece’s future economic success. And I am confident that through your participation in ReGeneration you will acquire skills that will better prepare you for that future.
So in closing before we get to the conversation, let me say again how happy I am to be with you here today. The U.S. is deeply invested in Greece’s economic success. A strong, dynamic economy in Greece will lead to a stronger bilateral partnership between our two nations, and greater ability to work side-by-side on our shared regional goals. And you, the young people of Greece, are key to building this more prosperous future. We look forward to being your partners, and sharing in your success.
So thank you very much and I look forward to your questions.