ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' push to get foreign companies is paying off, even during the COVID-19 pandemic with Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in the Greek capital to announce plans for a near $1 billion investment, building three data centers as part of a cloud service.
The two appeared at the Acropolis Museum to reveal the plan that came after nine months of negotiations, said Kathimerini, the agreement also including digital skills training programs for 100,000 government workers, educators and students.
“This significant investment is a reflection of our confidence in the Greek economy, in the Greek people and the Greek government,” Smith said at a ceremony.
“It’s not something we do often and it’s not something that we do lightly. We could not have taken this step today without the help and support of the Greek government,” he said.
That was a reference to Mitsotakis' New Democracy government wooing foreign investors pushed away by the former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA, whose hard-core elements didn't want them, even during an economic and austerity crisis lasting nearly a decade.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and getting worse, Greece has been anxious to bolster a sagging economy brought down by the Coronavirus, getting a major boost in the Microsoft decision.
Mitsotakis' government had been accelerating a slow recovery when the pandemic hit and he was forced to close non-essential businesses up to 10 weeks in a further blow to the economy.
The pandemic showed the weakness of an economy whose biggest revenue provider was tourism, the sector devastated when even after the country opened to visitors in July the numbers were far fewer than expected, those from countries hard hit by the virus not allowed and others fearful of traveling.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the country’s heavy reliance on tourism. The Mitsotakis government is trying to diversity to other sectors, especially in energy, high technology and defense as well as try to lure back tens of thousands of the country's youngest and best and brightest who fled during the crisis.
Mitsotakis hailed the “significant, innovative investment,” adding that it would make Greece “a global hub for cloud computing,” the paper said, as he added the investment would boost the country's as an destination for more companies and the effect spill over into providers and small and medium-sized companies.
Microsoft currently has data centers in 26 countries, including seven in the European Union. The company based in Redmond, Washington, is already working with the Greek government on an augmented reality project on Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic games.
The origins of the idea for the investment can be traced to a meeting between Mitsotakis and Smith at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last January, after which Smith had commented that it was one of the most important meetings he had in Davos.
Microsoft made its final decision two weeks ago, after talks with Mitsotakis' office and the ministries of Digital Governance and Investment and Development, the paper said, the details under wraps.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)