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Business Benefits? Expect A Delay

July 4, 2007
By ERIC GERSHON, Courant Staff Writer

AMSTERDAM - A lot of people come to the Dutch capital with joints on their minds. Paul Pendergast did, too - knees, hips and elbows.

With the debut of Hartford's nonstop flight to the Netherlands through Northwest Airlines, the fundraising chief for St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center kept thinking about its soon-to-be -announced Connecticut Joint Replacement Institute - and the well-to-do Hollanders who might need its services.

So he flew over on the first Hartford- Amsterdam flight Sunday to spread word of the institute. He's met with people at the local IBM office, where he worked in the early 1990s, and he has meetings set up at ING, the Dutch financial services firm, and ABN Amro, the bank.

"We are a destination for joint replacement," he said.

This is the sort of retail networking that stands to pay off for Hartford in the long run, according to Connecticut business advocates who traveled to Amsterdam this week.

"You're investing in the future," said Ray Necci, president of Connecticut Light & Power, who also traveled to Amsterdam on Sunday's flight. "Things don't happen right away."

That is clear to the swarm of economic development promoters from Connecticut and western Massachusetts staying at the Hotel Krasnapolsky in the heart of Amsterdam. The Dutch have hardly been lining up outside for appointments.

Having celebrated with great fanfare the announcement and departure of the first Hartford-Amsterdam flight, Connecticut's promoters are at once trying to play up the potential of the new connection, while playing down any expectation that it will bear fruit quickly.

Hartford's lead pitchman in Amsterdam, R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, president of the MetroHartford Alliance, was reminded Tuesday that the Dutch have interests other than their new tie to Hartford. He and Allan Blair, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, delivered the Hartford-Springfield delegation's major public presentation Tuesday in an office at the airport's booming business park.

Titled "The Gateway to New England and the U.S. Market," it was jammed with details about the Hartford-Springfield region that Hollanders might not know - like where it is, for starters.

They also enthusiastically related that the region is a hotbed for the aerospace and insurance industries and emphasized its proximity to New York and Boston (cities they describe as far away when talking about Bradley International Airport).

But their fellow New Englanders in the audience of about five dozen far outnumbered the Dutch. In all, representatives of eight Dutch businesses attended the event, according to Sandra Johnson, the alliance's vice president for international business.

Only one Dutch person offered a query during the question-and-answer session - the hostess and emcee, a marketing official with Schiphol airport's authority.

Afterward, Griebel and the alliance dismissed the low turnout and downplayed their presentation as a "tag-along" to a series of talks by members of the Amsterdam airport development authority.

"I don't care whether there's a single Dutch company here today," Griebel said. "This isn't going to be the last time people here in Amsterdam see us."

Blair cared, though he took pains to say he didn't consider the low turnout a disappointment.

"You always expect and hope when you make a presentation that you have a fresh, new audience," he said.

The alliance and the Massachusetts group had hired an American consultant who lives in the Netherlands to round up Dutch business people for the presentation and other events.

"We have to keep our expectations reasonable," Blair said. The trip, he added, "has this aura of a campaign, that we're going to come back with the spoils. But that isn't really what it's about."

Both groups said upcoming meetings with specific companies and business groups in Europe are important relationship-building opportunities, like the series of cocktail receptions they attended in Amsterdam this week, including one at ING's arresting ship-shaped and glassy world headquarters.

In the coming days, alliance staff members are headed elsewhere in Europe, including Germany and Lithuania, to meet with companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the engineering faculty of a university. Connecticut Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele will meet with about 20 companies in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

After Tuesday's presentation - held in an office at "Airport City," a massive business park near Schiphol Airport that contains European headquarters for Microsoft and other major U.S. and foreign companies - Fedele met with executives from Head N.V., the sports equipment maker based in Amsterdam. The company has operations in Norwalk and wants to consolidate other U.S. operations, possibly in Connecticut, he said.

Necci, the CL&P president, joined in downplaying the Amsterdam trip as a mission for inked deals.

"To me, this is kind of the start," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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