NACC celebrates centennial with gala
Liv Ullmann and Innovation Norway are honored at an event featuring Norwegian royalty
It all started with fish. Long a staple of the Norwegians’ diet, it has also been one of the country’s largest export items, especially to the U.S. In 1915, with Norway just a decade old as an independent nation, the export to and import of items from America were threatened by the advent of World War I. The U.S. imposed an embargo on exports to Norway, fearing it could end up in enemy hands.
Out of this impasse arose the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce.
“Norway was a young country in 1915,” said Inger M. Tallaksen, who has been involved with the NACC for 35 years, the last 27 as General Manager. “Fish (herring, mackerel, sardines, dry cod, and fish balls) was a main export of Norway. Shipping, shipbuilding, and banking were also important. In those days you could see a Norwegian ship in every port on the East Coast. The embargo impacted Norwegian trade. With the threat of the embargo and its dire consequences for Norway, the Chamber initiated trade negotiations in Washington, D.C., by inviting a delegation led by (Arctic explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) Fridtjof Nansen. As a result of these negotiations, NACC was authorized to issue certification of cargo. The stamp from NACC was very important because it meant the cargo could not be searched and taken by warring countries. After World War I, NACC continued to fight for lower taxes and tariffs on items imported into the U.S. from Norway.”
The mission statement adopted on September 16, 1915, read: “…to foster trade, business, financial, or professional interests of those having a common trade, business, financial interests, to reform abuses thereto, to secure freedom from unjust or unlawful exactions, to diffuse accurate and reliable information as to the standing of merchants and other matters, to procure uniformity and certainty in the customs and usages of trade and of those having a common trade, business, financial, or professional interest to settle differences between its members, and to promote friendly and inclusive relations between business men. These activities to be in the main confined to business interest and commerce between Norway and the United States of America….”
Thus began the strong relationship with the U.S. However, a banking crisis in Norway in 1924 coincided with the Warren Harding administration imposing higher tariffs on imported items making trade with Norway most difficult and forcing NACC to shut its doors. It reopened in 1933 as the go-to source for information about importing and exporting. After closing again during World War II, NACC reopened in 1944, and has thrived since.
On October 7, NACC celebrated its 100th anniversary with a gala at one of New York’s exclusive private clubs. Around 220 people attended, most importantly, Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Other honored guests included H.E. Kåre Aas, Norway’s Ambassador to the United States; H.E. Geir O. Pedersen and wife Mona Christophersen, Norway’s Ambassador to the United Nations; Hon. Elin Bergithe Rognlie and husband Tor Arnt Roko, Consul General of Norway for New York.
Two major awards were presented. The Nora Award, named for the strong female character in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, is presented to an outstanding Norwegian woman in recognition of her “strength and character, and who has made significant contributions to the betterment of society in the United States, Norway and the world at large.” Actress, director, writer, author, and human rights activist Liv Ullmann became only the second recipient of the award. H.M. Queen Sonja received the first Nora in 2013. Ullmann, who was the first female UN Goodwill Ambassador, a post she held for 10 years, received the NACC Achievement Award in 1996. Since 1980, Ullmann has been Vice-Chair of the International Rescue Committee. In 1989 she co-founded the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, which has since changed its name to the Women’s Refugee Commission.
“She is such a fantastic humanitarian, it was an easy and unanimous decision to honor her again with the special Nora Award,” said Tallaksen.
“I am proud to be part of this evening,” said Ullmann, after receiving the award. “Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for its efforts to promote understanding between Norway and the United States.”
This year’s Trade Award went to Innovation Norway, which in its different formations and names has enjoyed a close relationship with the NACC. It was created as the Export Council of Norway in November 1945. It later became known as the Norwegian Trade Council, and in 2004, merged with the Norwegian Tourist Board (now Visit Norway) and the Norwegian Redevelopment and Industrial Fund to create Innovation Norway. In the 1940s and 1950s, NACC shared offices with the Export Council and handled administrative tasks for 20 years. CEO Anita Krohn Traaseth accepted the award for Innovation Norway. In her remarks in the commemoration program, she wrote:
“For 70 years, Innovation Norway (formerly Norwegian Trade Council) has paved the way for Norwegian companies searching for new markets abroad. A key player in the government’s efforts to foster innovation and expansion of Norwegian enterprises and industries, Innovation Norway supports companies in various stages of growth. Whether a start-up or large corporation, the organization’s aim is to help business clusters in Norway. Early on, the Council turned to NACC for assistance in setting up its operations…The United States is still one of the most important overseas markets for Norway. Innovation Norway and its three U.S. offices—New York, Houston, and San Francisco—are a prime resource for Norwegian entrepreneurs and business leaders.”
“Tonight we are not only celebrating the two winners of the prestigious Trade and Achievement Awards, but we are celebrating the Chamber itself,” said Crown Prince Haakon. “My sincere congratulations to you. From your headquarters in New York through your eight chapters all over the United States, the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce is doing an excellent job promoting trade and goodwill between the United States and Norway. From the technology clusters of California to the maritime works of Houston, Texas, or to businesses anywhere else, you have played a vital role as a facilitator of Norwegian interests. Norwegian business has traditionally been dependent on industry, shipping, and the exports of raw materials. In the 1960s, Norway imported American technology and knowledge to help search for oil and gas in the North Sea. Today, it is Norway’s turn to deliver knowledge and technology. They come here to join the best with IT, music, design, art, advertising, fashion, and media. I am sure the Chamber will continue to be a relevant and invaluable door opener for Norwegian business in the United States for the next 100 years.”
NACC has changed over the years. There are now eight chapters: Philadelphia, Miami, Houston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The membership’s industries are much more broad based and include service industries and Americans looking for business opportunities with Norway. The discovery of oil in the North Sea in 1969 opened international energy markets.
“We have 550 members in various kinds of industries: banks, finance, maritime, fisheries, arts, music, architecture,” said Tallaksen. “Our largest group of members are Norwegian subsidiaries or companies owned by Norwegians, but we also have American members, mainly in service industries like lawyers and CPAs, who want to do business with the Norwegian companies. The discovery of oil in 1969 changed Norway, and ushered in an era where oil and gas and related business became leading export industries. This is reflected in the concentration of Norwegian companies in the U.S. Of the 200 Norwegian subsidiaries here, around 150 are located in the Houston area. Another major development affecting Norwegian business in the U.S. is technology, which has made it possible for companies to be located just about anywhere, outside of the major cities and in various parts of the country. When I started with the NACC 35 years ago, every major Norwegian company would have its U.S. headquarters in New York City. That is not the case anymore. Also, today there is a lot of attention and effort given to support start-ups, entrepreneurship and young, new companies, and NACC, together with Innovation Norway, will focus on assisting such companies into the U.S market.”
Tallaksen sees a bright future of NACC.
“In 35 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way business is conducted,” said Tallaksen, who received the Ambassador’s Award for Promoting Norway in 2009. “Though people can find all kinds of information on the internet, the internet doesn’t replace the opportunities of networking and meeting people with similar business interests at events. Networking events are of the highest priority for the NACC. An event should offer people an opportunity to learn something and to meet people they potentially can do business with, share information with, and get inspired. That’s where the Chamber comes in.”
Major events in NACC history
• September 16, 1915: NACC established.
• Assisted Norway’s presence in 1939 NY World’s Fair.
• Closed during World War II, but served as center for commercial activity in the war effort.
• Reopened Feb. 16, 1944, in the presence of H.R.M. Crown Prince Olav.
• Nov. 11, 1945, Export Council of Norway, precursor of The Norwegian Trade Council established.
• After the war, Norwegian trade increased, due to the “golden age of shipping.” New product imports included Norwegian furniture and other design items.
• NACC moves into Norway House on Madison Avenue in New York in 1951. Norwegian Tourist Office, the Norwegian Information Service, Borregaard, and Norsk Hydro Sales Corporation also had offices there.
• Oslo office of NACC also opened in 1951 to provide a source for information for business opportunities in the United States.
• 1959: Midwest Chapter established in Chicago.
• NACC commemorates 50th anniversary on October 13, 1965, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where H.R.H. Crown Prince Harald spoke, and later at the Hotel Bristol in Oslo, where H.M. King Olav was the featured speaker.
• In 1964, Executive Director of NACC designated as Export Council’s U.S. Representative. A few years later, roles flipped. The Export Council’s representative, now known as the Trade Commissioner of Norway, functioned as the NACC’s General Manager until 1988.
• 1968: Upper Midwest Chapter founded in Minneapolis.
• 1969: Pacific Northwest Chapter established in Seattle.
• The discovery of oil in the North Sea increased wealth and groundbreaking innovations in the petroleum industry. Accelerated trade cooperation between Norway and the United States. The NACC has played a leading role in promoting such cooperation.
• 1971: Southern California Chapter established in Los Angeles.
• 1973: Southwest Chapter established in Houston.
• Norway House closes in 1970s. NACC moves its office closer to Consulate General.
• In 1988 NACC promoted its Assistant General Manager, Inger M. Tallaksen, to the position of General Manager.
• 1982: Southeast Chapter (now known as Florida Chapter) established in Miami.
• The 70th anniversary was marked in 1985 with a concert at Lincoln Center featuring young Norwegian artists and Metropolitan Opera singer, Judith Blegen, who was of Norwegian descent.
• In 1988, the NACC celebrated the opening of the Norway Pavilion at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center by arranging a national membership meeting and conference on “Norwegian Investments in the U.S.”
• For the 75th Anniversary in May 1990, NACC invited American members to Norway with a ball at Hotel SAS Scandinavia in the presence of (the then) Their Royal Highnesses, Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja. The Royal Couple was joined by a host of dignitaries. Two of Norway’s most popular entertainers, violinist Arve Tellefsen and singer Sissel Kyrkjebø, performed.
• In 1992, presentation of the first Norwegian-American Achievement Award.
• In 1994, the NACC and the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce (HACC) co-sponsored an international shipping conference in New York. The partnership remains solid today with the 22nd conference due to take place on Feb. 11, 2016, in New York City.
• In 1996, presentation of the first Norwegian-American Trade Award.
• American Chamber of Commerce in Norway is established in 1998, and merges with NACC in 1999, creating AmCham Norway.
• 2002: Mid-Atlantic Chapter established in Washington, D.C.
• 2013: Philadelphia Chapter established.
• 2013: The presentation of the first Nora Award for Women of Achievement to H.M. Queen Sonja of Norway
• 2015: NACC celebrates 100th anniversary.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.