PATRAS, Greece — The 2021 Regional Growth Conference held in Patras June 3-5 that brought together national and local public officials and business persons to discuss economic development in Greece also featured discussions on Greece’s international relations.
One of the highlights was the One-to-One Discussion titled A New Era for the U.S.-Greece Relations between U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and SKAI journalist Apostolos Mangiriadis.
Pyatt began by emphasizing “our aim is to bring investors to Greece,” after noting achievements such the upgrading of Greece’s regional airports and substantial investments in Greece’s high tech future by American firms such as Pfizer, Microsoft, Cisco, and Google.
“Greece has changed,” Pyatt declared, adding the country’s digital transformation has brought the crucial ability of investors being able to monitor the status of their properties and investment projects and other actions to speed up the bureaucratic process. He noted the government fully grasps the reality that “time is money.”
Pyatt is impressed with Greece’s response to the COVID crisis, also noting its economy “is more resilient than people expected,” and is effectively absorbing EU COVID aid.
Asked by Mangiriadis about additional investment from the United States, Pyatt said he is not permitted to name companies, but noted Greece’s is doing the things necessary to becoming an investment magnet – nationally and regionally. “I remember the first time I went to the Patras Science Park,” Pyatt said. “I felt I had discovered a buried diamond … I could see the raw ingredients in terms the student community, the strong university … the linkages with companies, and it’s very exciting to see that moving forward … and as we both grow out of this [pandemic] we see a good synergy in the priorities that President Biden has enunciated … and the priorities of Mr. Mitsotakis.”
The ambassador was pleased that Mangiriadis spotlighted two companies, Advent Technologies and Think Silicon which the latter said reflect “the work being done at the University of Patras and the great talent that exists in Greece.” Asked about future university collaborations with U.S. companies, Pyatt said, “that is already happening.”
Regarding his latest visit to Advent, Pyatt said, “I went back today and could see it’s a much larger operation. Their headcount in Patras has grown; they have grown in the United States. Their main product line is hydrogen fuel cells, which complements the shift to electric vehicles in the United States … and they are looking to grow their footprint in Greece with a new office in Athens. It’s a real success story – the gold standard for success for a U.S. startup is NASDAC listing,” which they achieved. “And they continue to innovate … in a way that deepens the ties between our two countries.
When he first visited Think Silicon he asked, “how is it the no one has bought you yet.” Now that has happened – but they are not leaving Greece. “They are growing here in Greece, in Patras … and both companies, like Pfizer, have become engines for brain gain” Pyatt added.
Reflecting on his five years of service in Greece, Pyatt said the storyline has been “the transition from crisis to opportunity.”
He is also bullish on the Patras region as Greece’s gateway to Western Europe – and he thinks there untapped tourism potential. As an example he mentioned Olympia, “the most famous site of Classical Greece no one has ever heard of. Everyone knows about the Olympics,” but people don’t know they can go to their birthplace. That may be about to change, he said, with Microsoft’s remarkable “virtual visit to ancient Olympia” initiative.
After discussing the links between the American and Greek revolutions, Mangiriadis noted that the strong historic and cultural ties complement the recent deepening of their defense relationship, as evidenced by the recent Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement and reports that that both countries want to expand it and add facilities.
Pyatt noted the U.S. is eager to hear what Greece would like to see moving forward, but he emphasized that “the essence of our alliance,” is “the confidence in each other” that Greek and American military personnel – especially in the air forces – have developed in recent years.
Shifting to the Greece‐Turkey conflict, Mangiriadis asked if Pyatt expects a different summer in 2021 than in 2020, to which Pyatt responded: “I certainly hope so. We are strongly supportive of the steps Prime Minister Mitsotakis has taken to promote dialogue with Turkey but also to reaffirm the red lines … we were quite vocal last year in expressing our concern about some of the provocative activities” of Turkey, including regarding Cyprus. Nevertheless, he believes Greece the United States agree on the need “to keep Turkey anchored in the West.”
While U.S.-Greece relations unexpectedly thrived during the prior Greek government, as an opposition official SYRIZA’s Giorgos Katroungalos said at the RGC that in the long term Greece must rely on the EU, not the U.S. All the other participants were thrilled about the progress of U.S.-Greece relations.