New York City has taken on an especially surreal aspect during the coronavirus crisis. In what was previously the beating heart of the global economy, the streets now stand empty and the world-famous New York Stock Exchange has even been closed. Nevertheless, trading continues along fully digitized lines. Lukas Sieber, Executive Director USA at Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA), is also working in this way out of New York City. With his five-strong team, Sieber is the first point of contact for anybody interested in establishing a presence in the economic area of Zurich.
Together with official GZA partners, in 2019 Sieber supported 37 US enterprises in their efforts to establish their business model in the Greater Zurich Area, with the result that the USA leads the way in terms of foreign business settlements in the region. This success story had been expected to continue in 2020, with representatives of leading US drone companies having planned a business trip to Switzerland for the start of April. “However, they will now meet high-tech researchers and entrepreneurs from the Swiss drone ecosystem virtually”, Sieber explains.
In general, the same familiar services are still being offered – only digitally at the present moment. While GZA marketing was largely digitized prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Sieber’s work is usually much more personal: Half of the time he is visiting companies or attending conferences. When deciding on a new location, contact must be on an equal footing and foster mutual trust. In this regard, Sieber is unable and unwilling to sort everything over the telephone or via email from his New York home office. Different types of videoconferencing are integrated into communication chains, as was the case with the drone companies. Sieber is involved in the expansion of the webinar format that GZA has been offering for certain select subjects over the past four years.
“We exploit all technical opportunities available to us and, in so doing, seek to take innovative approaches”, Sieber comments. In his view, a collective learning process is taking place. He states: “The largest biotech conference in the world, the BIO International Convention, which was due to take place in San Diego, will be held in June on a fully digital basis for the first time – and we will be there too!”.
Reliable partners even during times of crisis
Other challenges presented by the coronavirus are unable to be overcome by technical help. For this reason, it is all the more important that communication channels remain open. Sieber comments: “For example, a businessman from Chicago had been planning to establish a presence in Central Switzerland this summer, with his entire family also set to make the move. It is practically impossible to rework the timetable”. Nevertheless, Sieber remains in close contact with both the canton and the businessman.
“Reliable partners are becoming ever more important – especially in these uncertain times during which entire industries are facing an existential threat, while US trade policy is also always ready to spring a surprise”, he says. Building bridges is therefore also one of his key tasks during the crisis. “It’s simply about finding ways to work together, now more than ever before”.
by Yvonne von Hunnius