Three new NACC chapter presidents

Philadelphia, Minneapolis, & Houston welcome new leaders

NACC

MICHAEL KLEINER
The Norwegian American

Three Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce chapters have new presidents. One is American, one Norwegian-American, one Norwegian by marriage. They represent chapters of different sizes, cities, and regions, all with different selling points and challenges.

Chris Burmeister - NACC

Photo courtesy of Chris Burmeister

Chris Burmeister

Philadelphia

Sometimes, the choice is sitting in front of you. Burmeister was on the search committee for a new president to replace Frode Kjersem, who had ably guided the group since its inception in 2013. Then, the executive committee turned around and offered the role to Burmeister. 

“I wasn’t marketing myself, but when I was asked, I said ‘I’d be happy to be president.’”

Burmeister is a quarter Swedish on his father’s side. Professionally, he is a business development lead for Northern Europe for one of four business areas for Lockheed Martin. In the past, he learned German and Polish to work with those countries. He is currently learning Norwegian.

He searched for a connection to the country.

“I looked into NACC, and it’s really expanding beyond my company’s industry,” he said.

Burmeister’s philosophy is collaboration, allowing members to pursue their strengths, and scouting opportunities.

“I was asked to bring fresh ideas and new direction,” he said. “I can collaborate with the executive committee on strategy. As president, the one at the top is responsible for the overall strategy, but I think my role, will be more of communications. We have our roles as president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, but each one of us is also taking on a more functional role that is parallel with the person’s natural interests and abilities.”

The task to grow from the 28 members? 

“A fraction of those are active members,” he said. “The executive committee needs to set an example, of all the things that interest us, and recruit. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering membership drive. Recruit people you see and give them a reason for being interested. That will help them come up with their ideas that they can implement and help their team grow. To me, that’s the way to grow the membership. We’re building organically out. Getting people that are motivated and won’t be burned out because we’ve given them the choice of what they want to do.”

The greater Philadelphia metropolitan area is home to 6 million people and in close proximity to New York, Washington, and Boston. That closeness should mean more than a sentence in a promotional guide. 

“Our market diversity presents that challenge,” said Burmeister. “For what is Philadelphia known? Our chapter is working on a branding strategy, which will help figure out our efforts to grow membership. That goes into building an identity to attract people. I have connections inside and outside my industry. I’ve invited people outside my industry to become members.

“We have a lot of advantages in Philadelphia. We’ve got Norwegian businesses. We’ve got a great seaport, airport, railway, highway infrastructure on the East Coast. We have a strong, but understated, defense industrial base. We have a Norwegian-owned shipyard. They’re moving in the direction of shipbuilding ships for the defense. We’re home to one of the eight Ivy League colleges. We’re well known as a pharmaceutical hub. 

“What’s going to attract Norwegian companies to the East Coast is accessibility. We have some key industries. I think articulating which ones are stronger than in New York, or Washington is important. Because otherwise we’re just in between Washington and New York. We can collaborate and build as one. So, we have defense interests up here, and we can help the Mid-Atlantic chapter (Washington, D.C.) with events in Norfolk. Their reach is down to North Carolina. So, we can collaborate in that direction. We can collaborate in the direction of New York. We don’t have to act alone.”

Ryan Marth

Photo courtesy of Ryan W. Marth

Ryan W. Marth

NACC of the North (Minneapolis)

Ryan W. Marth made a more natural ascension to the leadership role of the now NACC of the North. They have 100 to 150 members headquartered in the epicenter of Norwegian activity in Minneapolis.

“Over the past five years, we made a conscious effort to turn us from a social organization to a true Chamber of Commerce,” said Marth. “That was under the leadership of Ole Koppang. Ole led the organization and guided us through a maturing process. He had a young family at home and decided it was time for him to step aside. I had been doing a lot of the work along with Ole, so it was logical that I would be the one to step in.”

Marth is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLC, a litigation law firm with offices in eight states. He is of Norwegian descent on his mother’s side, with relatives in Minnesund, near Eidsvoll. He majored in Norwegian, political science, and economics at St. Olaf College and has lived twice in Norway.

“I decided if I’m going to major in Norwegian, I may as well study in Norway,” said Marth. “I did that in 1997 through the Oslo Year program. Then, I received a Fulbright.”

A friend got him a job in Hammerfest. “I ended up running what was then the only outdoor restaurant in town, while also cleaning rooms in the adjacent hotel when the restaurant couldn’t open, and working at the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, a museum and guiding service of the local tourism board.”

While Minnesota’s Norwegian-American presence is a natural draw, there is still a lack of awareness by Norwegian businesses.

“What I bring is a connection with contemporary Norway plus a passion, both to assess Norwegian business and also to promote the North region, which we like to think of as Minnesota and the surrounding area,” said Marth. “We think that it’s an excellent hub for business. It’s a great market, with access to a very well-educated, highly sophisticated workforce that has the benefits of being cheaper than other markets on the coast. You have a large percentage of business and government leaders who claim some Norwegian heritage, which just helps open doors in a way that they don’t open other places. 

“When we think of where we’re strong relative to some of the strengths in Norway, I think there’s a lot of synergies there. Agriculture and food production are certainly one of them. Others are medical devices, medical technology, health care, and financial services. These are all sectors where we’re strong in Minneapolis, we’re strong in Minnesota, and then strong in Norway. Sometimes, I find that people in Norway aren’t as familiar with where we are strong. They labor under the illusion that in order to come to the United States, you must come to New York or San Francisco, and there’s no other options. We try to be not only promoters of Norwegian-American commerce, but also promoters of our region.” 

The newest Norwegian star to arrive in Minneapolis is Mats Zuccarello, who signed with the NHL Wild. NACC, along with Norway House, hosted a welcoming reception that drew over 100 people.

“We wanted to introduce him and the team to some of the business opportunities here in town,” said Marth. “He had his family over from Norway for Christmas. He contacted me to ask where to get his Norwegian Christmas food. I was able to help him out.”

Like NACC, one contact at a time.

John Hurter - NACC

Photo courtesy of John Hurter

John Hurter

Houston

John Hurter came to Norway—and NACC—through love. In high school in Houston, he met a Norwegian girl, whose father was setting up Den Norske Veritas (DNV) in North and South America. As an exchange student in Switzerland, he took trips to Norway to visit her. Ultimately, they married, had four “Texan-Norwegian children,” and he started conducting business in Norway.

“I’ve been doing business there almost my entire professional life, and I love it,” said Hurter, now a widower. “It’s such a privilege. It’s very defining for me.”

That has taken him to the presidency of 70-member NACC Houston. “I really care for the organization and our members,” said Hurter. “I want to see it succeed. It’s gone through some hardships along with the oil and gas business. We’ve gone through some major transitions. Among the things I bring is my staying power and desire for the organization to succeed, willing to try different things, and to be led by the members. It’s a time of bringing new people in and letting them try new ideas. I’m not threatened by that. That’s the key to success.” 

Hurter is CEO of Energy Matters Access, the “go-to-market experts between Norway and the United States… how to succeed in the U.S. market.” They also work with other countries, as well as with American companies wanting to enter other markets.

While Houston has long been the energy capital of the world, health care, aerospace, finance, and innovation—“Norway is an innovation hub of its own”—and digitalization are other industries that can create matches. The oil and gas industry have endured rough times since 2014 but could look to Norway for how it dealt with change. 

“What Norway did was to pivot when things went south in 2014-15, shifting to ‘green’ renewables,” said Hurter. “They have successfully done that, for example, by harnessing Norwegian offshore oil and gas industry capabilities into offshore wind. Then, it started smart cities, smart this and that, so digitalization. It’s the strength that we have in Norway. It’s taking a new technical skillset in oil and gas, but it is also leveraging Norway’s leadership. Norway’s been on the cutting edge of digitalizing, visualizing. A lot of these companies are seeing opportunity now.” 

Team Norway, consisting of NACC, the Consulate General, Innovation Norway, Norwegian Energy Partners, and the Seamen’s Church work closely together— “the big five in the palm of your hand”—creating benefits for members. 

“Houston is extremely diverse in terms of industries and demographics and is the prototype today of what everywhere else in the United States will be in 20 years,” he said. “Our job in NACC is to leverage our Norwegian ‘Americanness’ in the business environment and connectivity with Team Norway and tools Norway puts in Houston to add as much value to the business of our members that we can.

“We’re very well established here. There’s a very strong and experienced multi-generational network of families, business leaders, and trusted advisers in the greater Houston area. That means that you’ve got resources that are going local. It also means that Team Norway has a rich set of local resources to pull in from, to learn from, to call on. It means we’re not going anywhere. We will continue to grow, dig in, and learn the way we do it, and exactly what companies and industries are representing the Norwegian-American experience that’s going to change. We’re in a time of change. It’s painful, but there will be new opportunities, too. We will be looking for them.”

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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