NACC, SACC Philadelphia pinning success on each other
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Chris Burmeister claimed it was the first shirt he found after returning from Planet Fitness. He wore a yellow polo shirt. On his right collar was a Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce lapel pin, on the other a Swedish American Chamber of Commerce and Swedish flag pins. He added a picture overlooking Bergen as a backdrop to the Zoom call.
“It’s symbolic,” explained Burmeister, who became president of NACC Philadelphia in 2020. “First of all, my grandmother was a first-generation Swedish immigrant. I’m also emphasizing, in Philadelphia anyway, we are very collegial. The SAAC and NAAC work together.”
Anders Näsman became president of SACC Philadelphia in 2019, wanting to provide the same comfort to Swedish startups that he had received 20 years previously.
“When I came to the U.S. as a startup, 20 years ago, I was looking for friendly faces, who could help me set up my business,” said Näsman, a native of Malmö. “I want SACC to be that resource for Swedish companies.”
In that respect, the two chambers are similar, SACC serving Swedes, NACC, Norwegians.
NACC Philly was chartered in 2013, the eighth chapter in NACC, which had been established in 1915. Members had attended SACC, but when they reached a critical mass and saw Norwegian business opportunities, they became their own chapter. The two chambers did not stray far from each other, representatives serving on each other’s boards, and attending receptions for prospective businesses.
They were two organizations on limited budgets and resources. “We had the interns, they had the workspaces,” said Näsman. At the time of the pandemic, NACC was using space in a co-working location in Center City Philadelphia, the second location they tried.
SACC had an established local college student intern program attracting Swedish natives, which NACC had trouble establishing with a smaller pool of Norwegian students. Former NACC President and current secretary Frode Kjersem had got the ball rolling.
An agreement was formalized that alleviated concerns of some that this might be a merger. Näsman and Burmeister are adamant that is not happening.
“For me, the criterion is, when you have critical mass, that determines when you work together,” said Burmeister. “There may be an abundance of opportunities and ways of conducting something when it comes to a Swede and a Norwegian. I don’t see any competition between the two organizations. It makes sense because we’re also small enough. That gives us the flexibility to not become territorial. We have to cooperate. We have to be creative on building and you build through alliances.”
“Not everybody who shows up at events is interested,” said Näsman. “There are various activities, if we join forces, that it’s easier to get the critical mass that you need. Another aspect is that the needs are pretty similar. If we don’t collaborate, then NACC is going to try to create services for companies that are basically identical to mine. It’s a waste of resources. For example, I had three interns. NACC was basically piggybacking on that. On the flip side, they had an office. I didn’t have an office. It was a beautiful solution where we could help each other.
“There is no benefit of having a Scandinavian chamber. The members of each chamber wouldn’t recognize themselves. It’s better to have two independent organizations that are just sharing resources, ideas, and anything else. If you’re a Norwegian company, you joined NACC because it’s the right chamber. The Swedes as well. If you try to create a Scandinavian chamber, you water down the value.”
Burmeister’s middle name is collaboration—“I can compare any two countries and find a way they can work together.”
Maybe, he should be a peace negotiator. Whether it’s a matter of organizing a virtual holiday event with NACC chapter or just brainstorming new possibilities, he comes up with innovative ideas and ways of collaboration.
“It would be ironic if we didn’t collaborate,” he said. “Both cultures are heavily consensus oriented. It would be strange to see kind of a ‘Life of Brian’ scenario where we have these separations that a are artificial. Today, there’s still a geopolitical boundary, but there really isn’t one. Because of COVID, there is a little bit of a separation, but there’s a lot of reasons to collaborate where it makes sense. We have history with both cultures. That teamwork helps mutually beneficial things. There may be areas where Norwegians are stronger, and others, Swedes are stronger. Maybe, there’s strengths that could be brought to both of those.”
Then, the pandemic hit.
In Feb. 2019, there was a “hygge” at a Philadelphia bar, organized by NACC, SACC, and Geographical Society of Philadelphia. In June 2019, showing this notion of Nordic strength in numbers is broad, there was a Nordic pavilion at the biosciences conference in Philadelphia. One evening during the conference, there was a reception on the rooftop of a Center City building. Later in the year, the Swedes organized a gløgg party, Norwegians a holiday party.
“If it doesn’t work, you can easily slide apart again,” said Näsman. “I think, at the end of the day, successful partnership depends on the personalities of the people running the show. It’s as strong as the bonds between the people running it.”
Näsman and Burmeister are looking forward to when we can all come out from behind our Zoom screens, they can shake hands in person, and plan how to put Philadelphia on Norwegian and Swedish businesses’ maps.
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.