Thessaloniki is leading the way toward Greece’s future as the digital hub of southeastern Europe, US Consul General at Thessaloniki Elizabeth K. Lee said on Tuesday.
The US diplomat was addressing the two-day Thessaloniki Future Thinking Dialogues (TFTD) conference organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).
Starting off with praising the city’s strong ties with the United States, Lee noted that it has been the home to two American-affiliated educational institutions for more than 100 years: Anatolia College and the American Farm School, and also has been home to the YMCA since 1919.
With the central theme of the 1st TFTD conference being the potential transformation of Thessaloniki to a model nerve center of digital innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, Lee underlined that the US “remains strongly engaged in this area because we know that teaching entrepreneurship and STEM skills to Greek youth will lead to sustainable economic growth and a stronger Greek workforce.”
Major U.S. companies like Cisco, Deloitte, and Pfizer have made “the strategic decision to grow their footprint in Thessaloniki so they can tap into the city’s highly educated young workforce and the Balkan market of 30 million people,” Lee highlighted, in line with using the case of the northern city as a jumping point to discuss the cities of the future as innovation ecosystems.
“As Ambassador Pyatt has said, American business leaders do not longer ask ‘Where is Thessaloniki?’ but rather, ‘where else can we invest?’,” Lee pointed out.
Thessaloniki digital hub ecosystem
New ecosystems are popping up in cities, as mostly young people are driven by their dreams not just to make money but to also offer something valuable to the community, Elias Spirtounias, executive director of AmCham, stated.
Introducing the AmCham’s conference, Spirtounias said that Thessaloniki is an an example of such an ecosystem.
“We live in a drastically and rapidly changing world in which we all are called to adapt and operate faster and more efficiently,” he said, and science and technology can help in key ways to resolve challenges and succeed in areas “where other policies and actions have failed such as in confronting impoverishment, inequalities, health and others.”
Such mainly urban ecosystems are “providing the best shelter” to incubate such ideas and to interact with others, he noted. The chamber’s commitment is to help educate young entrepreneurs about the business aspect of their projects, the right practices and the constraints of the real economy so they may fulfil their dreams.
Spirtounias said that the collaboration between AmCham and the US Embassy at the Thessaloniki International Fair in 2018 was a catalytic event for the city and the region, affording visiting American businesses a clear vision of the prospects of investing in the city and in young Greek people, and inspired the two-day conference.