Like many first time visitors to Atlanta, Viljar Lubi’s knowledge of the city was limited to an awareness of CNN, Coca-Cola drinks and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
Unlike most visitors, the counselor of economic affairs at the Washington embassy of the Republic of Estonia, was caught in a snow storm in February and had to extend his stay.
“I used this extra night in Atlanta just to walk around and see the city,” he responded to GlobalAtlanta in an interview via email. “What I really liked was seeing lots of students wandering around. This shows that the city has a good spirit and air full of fresh ideas…at least I like to think so.”
Mr. Lubi was invited to Atlanta by Charles Green, an international business consultant and former bank president, who had been impressed by Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, while visiting the city last year.
Following his stay in Atlanta during which he visited several local organizations and companies, Mr. Lubi said that he was surprised to find out the diversity of Atlanta and Georgia’s economy and that he looked forward to his return, perhaps as soon as this spring.
“If you stay in the capital you tend to believe that everything outside is just a periphery, tiny and irrelevant. Even in a vast country like the United States,” he said. “But Georgia’s economy alone is 10 times bigger than Estonia’s and bigger than many EU (European Union) member state’s economies.”
Located between Latvia and Russia and bordering the Baltic Sea, Estonia has a population of only 1.3 million, which, according to Mr. Lubi, has forced the country to seek foreign markets for its products.
“Estonia is a small country, therefore we have never thought that limiting our business activities just to the few close markets and to just a couple of sectors would benefit us in the long term,” he said.
“Buy in order to sell has been one of our mottos. We are part of the EU, a common market of 500 million people. And we are immediate neighbors of Russia whose market potential is generally unused by most countries.”
Estonia’s location between the EU, which it joined in 2004, and Russia, provides a promising base for U.S. companies to enter markets either to its east or west, he said.
But, he added, the country’s greatest strength is in the capabilities of its people despite their innate shyness.
“Estonians are a pragmatic Nordic nation,” he said. We are shy of other people. Therefore, we have been good at creating ideas how to connect with people without actually meeting them. All electronic and mobile solutions therefore suit us well.”
As an example, he cited Skype, the software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet developed by Estonian software developers.
“And Skype’s success has definitely encouraged others,” he said. “We are rather good in creating ideas, but we very often lack the skill to understand the real value of our ideas and how to market those ideas. This is something we really need to learn a lot about from the Americans.”
The Estonian government has not been shy about seizing virtual opportunities and has established itself as an “e-nation” by being one of the first countries to have an embassy on Second Life, the 3D virtual world where the inhabitants are computer generated alter egos.
Just like in Washington, Estonia’s Second Life embassy hosts art exhibits, concerts and lectures.
Meanwhile back in the day-to-day world of economic reality, Mr. Lubi predicted that Estonia would enter the eurozone next year, a development that will cause a new inflow of foreign investments similar to what the country experienced when it joined the EU.
Estonia’s economy has slowed with the global recession, but that has not been all bad for the country, he added.
“Estonia experienced between 2000-2008 economic growth above 8 percent annually on average,” he said. “It was not sustainable and needed some adjustments anyway. The global crisis speeded up those necessary reforms and now the Estonia is ready for a fresh start.”
While in Atlanta he visited with local economic development officials, the Nanotechnology Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the European Union Center of Excellence and Purafil Inc., which manufactures made-to-order air filtration equipment.
Mr. Lubi may be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (202) 588-0101.
To learn more about Estonia's Second Life embassy, go to http://www.vm.ee/?q=en/node/646