George Novak, the honorary consul general of the Czech Republic for the Southeast, fled with his family by car to Vienna, Austria, the night the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Shortly afterwards, he moved to Georgia when he learned of job opportunities being offered by Carrollton-based Southwire Co. to qualified immigrants.
Southwire, a cable and wire manufacturer with operations around the world, had informed resettlement services in Vienna that it had more than 30 positions available for skilled immigrants, Mr. Novak told GlobalAtlanta during an interview in his office at 4 Concourse Parkway.
He worked at Southwire as an architectural engineer until 1972 and later with the engineering firm Robert Co. until he founded in 1983 the George Novak Co., a construction project management firm.
While most of his company’s projects are in the United States, his firm played a critical role in the restoration of the historic five-star Radisson SAS Alcron Hotel in Prague.
Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla appointed Mr. Novak honorary consul general in 2003, praising him at the time for his efforts in raising support from then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sens. Max Cleland and Paul Coverdell for the Czech Republic’s entrance into NATO. While he would like to further assist the commercial ties between Czech Republic and Georgia, he said that he has been successful in developing cultural ties, having helped arrange for the conductors of the Atlanta Opera and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to perform in Prague.
He also sponsored Czech artists to perform at Spivey Hall at Clayton State College and University and at the Fox Theatre. GlobalAtlanta: When did you move to Georgia, and how long have you been the honorary consul general?
Mr. Novak: After escaping when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, I came to Georgia in November 1968. In 1994, I became the honorary consul of the Czech Republic, and in 2002, I was elevated to the position of honorary consul general.
GlobalAtlanta: How much time do you spend in the Czech Republic and have you noticed any significant changes in the past few years?
Mr. Novak: I go back five, six times a year to work on some projects for my Austrian client and for pleasure.
By entering NATO, the Czech Republic has re-established the confidence of foreign investors. Membership in the EU has even improved it.
The economy has had a steady annual growth of some 4 percent, a trade surplus and unemployment is one of the lowest in EU. The quality of life also has visibly improved.
GlobalAtlanta: What do you like best about the Czech Republic, and what do you like best about Georgia?
Mr. Novak: I enjoy the rich cultural life that the Czech Republic offers. I like opera, and Prague has three opera theaters performing daily. The amount of music is unbelievable.
I also see my nieces and old friends.
In Georgia, I love the weather, the nature, a very good business climate and warm and friendly people. I felt welcome here from day one.
GlobalAtlanta: What is it that you like least about both places?
Mr. Novak: Business relations in the Czech Republic still suffer from the influence of the 40-year communist era. More transparency and less corruption would help.
The ocean is far from Atlanta, and it does not have good winter skiing.
GlobalAtlanta: How big is the Czech community in Georgia and the Southeast, and what sort of services do you provide as honorary consul general?
Mr. Novak: The number of Czechs in Georgia is estimated between 5,000 and 10,000.
The consulate provides consular services (verification of signatures, translations, emergency and new passports, etc.), economic consultations, support of Czech cultural events, aid in distress, communicating with politicians and general representation of the Czech Republic.
GlobalAtlanta: Why did the Czech Republic break away from Slovakia, and was this a wise move?
Mr. Novak: That happened in January 1993. Slovak desired independence and felt very strongly about it.
The division weakened both sides, though the Czechs have a much more developed industrial infrastructure and, therefore, are doing significantly better. There is a very good relationship between the Czech and Slovak Republics in all directions.
GlobalAtlanta: What do you think have been the Czech Republic’s greatest accomplishments since 1993?
Mr. Novak: Hands down, entrance into NATO and then acceptance into EU.
GlobalAtlanta: Do you think that Georgia businesses are aware of the Czech Republic generally, and how aware are the Czechs of Atlanta and Georgia?
Mr. Novak: The mutual business awareness is very light. Czechs bring to Georgia some art, hand-cut lead glass, computer technicians and Pilsner Urquell beer. Woodworking machines are finding a market here as well.
Georgia exports to Czech Republic some digital equipment, and there has been some investment in the aviation industry. Czech Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Alliance with Delta.
GlobalAtlanta: What do you think are the greatest opportunities for Georgia companies in the Czech Republic?
Mr. Novak: High-tech merchandise and management skills cross my mind first.
GlobalAtlanta: Are you aware of Czech companies in the U.S., and what they are doing?
Mr. Novak: Strongest is the Czech Airlines in New York, then Skoda trolley bus company in San Francisco and Portland. I believe Pilsner Urquell beer company is doing quite well too.
GlobalAtlanta: Does the Czech Airlines membership in the SkyTeam Alliance do much to boost relations between Georgia and the Republic?
Mr. Novak: It can be felt only on the level of mutual corporate relations. There was some talk about a direct connection Atlanta-Prague some time ago.
GlobalAtlanta: Are you surprised by the dramatic increase in the number of tourists who are visiting the Czech Republic these days? Is this wave of tourism a good thing for the Republic?
Mr. Novak: Surprised, I am not!
Czech Republic has a very rich past, architecture and nature.
Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Trebic, Castle Lednice, Kalsbad, Marienbad are beautiful — some of them are on the UNESCO list of historic monuments.
Prague is now the third most-visited city in the world. In summer months it is hard to get anywhere in Prague because of the number of tourists.
My advice is to visit Prague in May, June or then in early fall.
GlobalAtlanta: The Prague-Ruzyne international airport is undergoing a needed expansion. Do Atlanta companies that have worked with the airport here seem to be aware of this expansion, and does it provide opportunities for them?
Mr. Novak: The airport in Prague-Ruzyne grew significantly in the last few years. Prague hopes to become an important airport for connections between East Europe and the world. I am not aware of any communications between Atlanta and Prague airport people.
GlobalAtlanta: How would you like to see the relationship between Georgia and the Czech Republic develop?
Mr. Novak: We need to get some trade missions to do some discovery visits both ways.
Governor Perdue discussed this when Czech Ambassador Palous was here a couple of years ago. I am getting some “nibbles” here regarding importing and distributing Czech merchandise in Georgia.