Norway House makes official visit to Norway

Deepening diplomacy and building business connections

Photo: Kristian Kapelrud / Forsvaret
Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, Minnesota National Guard adjutant general, and Maj. Gen. Elizabeth Michelsen, chief of the Norwegian Home Guard, proudly display the newly signed State Partnership Program agreement at the official ceremony in Trondheim, Norway.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

Rarely do all the stars align perfectly, but that certainly seemed to be the case when a delegation from Norway House in Minneapolis traveled to Trondheim, Norway, to be present for the celebration of the 50-year exchange and the signing of the State Partnership Program agreement between the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard, NOREX, on Feb. 15. The commanders of both national guards were present with a long list of dignitaries and a host of guests.

At the NOREX celebration at Nidaros Cathedral, guests were entertained by the music of the Trondheim-based Royal Norwegian Air Force Band.

In the words of Bob Tunheim, board chair at Norway House: “It was such a privilege to be included in a wonderful celebration of a remarkable partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and the Norway Home Guard. It is obvious that the troop exchanges over the past 50 years have strengthened our already strong ties to Norway, and the formalizing of the relationship will ensure that this program will extend far into the future.

“It was a thrill to witness the official signing, hear an amazing concert in the historic Nidaros Cathedral, be treated to a delicious five-course banquet, and last but certainly not least, to be able to greet Her Majesty Queen Sonja. This was a trip I will never forget.”

The Minnesota delegation was headed up by Gov. Tim Walz, and the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Marc Nathanson (also see Ambassador Marc Nathanson gets to the core of diplomacy) was also present to underline the importance of the occasion to Minnesota and the United States. In addition to Tunheim, Executive Director Christina Carleton and Britt Ardakani, director of business outreach, represented Norway House.

“There was something stunning and breathtaking about it all,” Carleton said. It was the first time she had been to Nidaros, and she compared it to the great cathedrals she had seen farther south in Europe. “It’s so powerful when you walk in,” she said. “Nidaros is a sacred, historic place.”The Royal Norwegian Air Force Band’s performance in the cathedral was a highlight of the program, followed by a banquet in the Archbishop’s Palace, located right next door. As the official invitation to the events stated, the stately 800-year-old building “set a wonderful stage for an evening among close allies and friends celebrating an important milestone in our long-lived troop exchange.”

After the signing of the State Partnership Program agreement, the attending dignitaries and guests attended a festive banquet in the 800-year-old Archbishop’s Palace adjacent to Nidaros Cathedral.

But the work of the delegation was not over in Trondheim. Because Gov. Walz and the Norway House group had made the long trip to Noway for the NOREX celebration, they decided to seize the opportunity to organize a business forum in Oslo. Originally, these meetings had been targeted for an April time frame, but with the governor’s support, Norway House and its Business Accelerator Resource Network (BARN) were able to fast-track the plans.The Minnesota Trade Office stepped in as a driving force, along with the U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the American Chamber of Commerce in Norway (AmCham). In less than three weeks, they were able to put together a full program. Laurence Reszetar, director of the Office of Foreign Direct Investment at the Minnesota Trade Office, accompanied the delegation from beginning to end and was present at all of the meetings.

The jam-packed itinerary included a business networking luncheon for 85 attendees and a panel discussion at the Grand Hotel sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, an evening reception and dinner at the hotel, and an official visit to the Storting.

Throughout, the main topic was the Norway House BARN program and its efforts to facilitate business relationships between Norway and Minnesota, with an outreach to the rest of the United States. At all the events, Gov. Walz was featured as the main speaker.

“He’s a fantastic ambassador for Minnesota,” said Carleton. “He spoke so highly of our quality of life and the many Fortune 500 companies we have here. I think a lot of people walked away feeling like, wow, we should look to Minnesota.”

“BARN also had over two years under its belt,” Carleton added. “The program wasn’t completely brand new, and at the luncheon, we had a company present that was part of our pilot program, EpiGuard. Their CEO participated on a panel to talk about how BARN had helped them launch in the United States.”

In addition to the focus on business and commerce, the trip also touched on other aspects of the Norway House mission, namely education, arts, and culture. The delegation met with Hanne Aaberg, executive director of the Norway-America Association, to talk about expanded opportunities for educational exchange across the Atlantic.

At the Storting, the Minnesota delegation was met by opposition leader Erna Solberg. Left to right: Hårek Elvenes, Christina Carleton, Erna Solberg, Britt Ardakani, Bob Tunheim, and Per Lykke.

When asked whether the trip had fulfilled its mission and expectations at the end of the day, Carleton was quick to say,
“Yes, absolutely, and maybe more.”Ardakani added, “We got amazing feedback on the luncheon, the people loved what they learned about BARN, and what Minnesota can offer.”

One outcome of the meetings is that BARN is working with the Oslo Chamber of Commerce on a new memorandum of understanding, establishing itself as a trusted partner. According to Ardakani, a focus on international development has been renewed, and everyone left the meetings open to new ideas and new business opportunities. BARN has already received one new application from Otivio, a med-tech company, and BARN is following through on interest expressed from and a handful of other companies.

Norway House and BARN fully understand that comprehensive follow-through is essential to sowing business success. Now back home in Minnesota, they are doing their homework and laying the groundwork for results-oriented business cooperation. They also plan to return to Norway for Oslo Innovation Week in September.

Looking back on the trip, Carleton said, “It was extra special that Norway House was invited to participate. It shows the significance of what we are becoming. The event strengthened the partnership between our two nations, and the fact that Norway House was part of a delegation coming from Minnesota was so meaningful. It helps fulfill our mission to connect with contemporary Norway.”

All photos courtesy of Norway House unless otherwise indicated.

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.