Manu Virtamo assumed his duties as the new Consul General of Finland in New York on September 1. Mr. Virtamo and his wife, Liisa, moved to New York from another hectic city, Tokyo, where Mr. Virtamo served as the Ambassador of Finland to Japan for the past three years.
Mr. Virtamo has a long career with the Finnish Foreign Service: He has been posted in Stockholm, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Tokyo, and now New York. In Helsinki he has served, among others, as Special Assistant to two different Trade Ministers and four Under Secretaries for Trade. For the last five years before his assignment to Tokyo he served as Coordinator for Export Promotion and Investments at the Ministry’s Department for External Economic Relations. In that position he was part of the group that developed the Team Finland concept which basically means putting all Finnish agencies together for promoting Finnish business and country image abroad.
We asked Consul General Virtamo about his views and expectations on this post, New York, and the U.S. in general.
Welcome to New York! Even though this is your first diplomatic post in New York, you have been posted to the U.S. before, both at the Embassy in Washington D.C. and at the Consulate General in Los Angeles. How does it feel to be back in the United States?
Thank you, it’s great to be back in the U.S. This is really like coming back home. But all these three cities are unique and the agendas of our Missions are very different so I still have a lot to learn in New York.
You came here from Japan, which is a very different country and has a different culture compared to the U.S. How does your work differ here compared to your work in Japan?
Japan, with its ages old culture and traditions, is very different from the much younger nation of the United States. My experience from both is very positive, though, and as a Finn I feel very much at home in both countries. As I often say, the agenda for an Ambassador is quite much given. In the capitals we follow the political and economic development of the host country and our sphere of contacts is basically the same everywhere. In the “side offices”, like the Consulates General, we are able to choose our focus more freely. In New York it will be in trade and investment promotion, cultural promotion and consular services.
The jurisdiction of the Consulate General is huge, it covers 35 Eastern and Mid U.S. States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. How would you describe the significance of this area to Finland and what is the most important thing you want to contribute during your term here?
The U.S. as a whole is an important trading partner for Finland and there are many major business centers in our jurisdiction. New York is one of them, but we also have to look at places like Chicago, Atlanta, big cities in Texas etc. One of my main objectives is to help Finnish companies in their efforts to get into these markets. Considering the importance of our political relations with the U.S. I try to complement and add to the efforts of the Embassy in Washington D.C. to maintain and further strengthen these relations. Naturally, we also have a responsibility to take care of the interests of Finnish citizens in our jurisdiction.
Speaking about economy and business. What kind of possibilities do you see for Finnish companies in the Eastern part of the U.S. and what are the biggest challenges? What kind of Finnish knowhow is in demand here? And what does the Consulate General do to help Finnish businesses succeed in America?
I think the possibilities are the same everywhere, and they don’t differ much be it the U.S. or Japan. Both the United States and Japan are big markets where we should be able to find opportunities if we have the right products and services to offer, and if we know the right way to do it. The U.S. Team Finland has defined the sectors where we focus our efforts: ICT and digitalization, health technologies, cleantech and energy, and creative industries. Of course this does not mean that we would exclude working on any other interesting sectors if they look promising but these are the four areas we consider the most promising.
The Consulate General in New York is a part of our U.S. Team Finland consisting of all three bilateral Missions of ours in the U.S., the offices of the trade and investment promoting organization Finpro, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes, the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, and the thirty Honorary Consulates in different U.S. States. And on a practical level we can count on organizations like the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce FACC, the Amcham etc. Together with all these different players we form a great team for promoting Finnish commercial and cultural interests in the U.S.
Finland is known by many as a small country somewhere in the North. What would you like to say to Americans interested in Finland, and why is it an attractive country to do business with and invest in?
I would refer to the numerous surveys where Finland is on top of the world, like us being the most sustainably developed society with a top rating in gender equality, effective administration, excellent education system etc. As for business, I would refer to our skilled labor force, knowledge of foreign languages and basically very honest and straightforward way of doing business. And of course I would point at our location between the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Russia and at the benefits this geographical position would bring to foreign companies that establish their business in Finland.
The U.S. is one of the most visited country by Finns (roughly 139 000 Finnish visitors yearly) and there are over 20 000 Finnish citizens living in the U.S. How does the Consulate General interact with and serve Finns here?
I feel very responsible for the safety and well-being of fellow Finns either visiting or living in our jurisdiction. I’m very happy that here I can trust in our excellent Consular Affairs team and its experience. Considering the fact that we cover every state from Maine to Texas and from North Dakota to Florida, our team is small but at the same time highly skilled. And this is something I can proudly say about our Consulate team as a whole.
New York is such an interesting and versatile city, with lot to do both workwise and in free time. What are your hobbies and how do you plan to spend your free time here?
I’m sure I will not have any difficulty in spending my free time, if any, in New York. My main hobby is music and New York is the right place to be if you love any genre of music, be it classical, jazz, blues or rock’n roll. As a vivid photographer I’m also sure that I will find interesting objects to catch wherever I go in this great city.
In Tokyo I had a Twitter account where I posted my personal photos from Finland and Japan under a heading “Observations from Finland and Japan in the shape of a photograph”. I will now change my profile according to my new position and continue posting photos from Finland and the U.S. What is great is that many of my Japanese followers have already told me that they will stay with me even from this new “distance”. I’m happy to welcome new followers here in the U.S. so please check my Twitter account @manuvirtamo.