Nevada officials look to deepen state’s ties with Poland

Updated March 11, 2017 - 10:44 pm

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s long-distance courtship with Poland will be celebrated in the state capital this week when a delegation from the Central European country visits the Legislature and attends a reception hosted by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Poland has become a focus of Nevada’s global economic development efforts, and the attraction is mutual, said John Petkus, Las Vegas’ honorary consul for the Republic of Poland.

“After the past five years, Nevada, in certain circles in Poland, is the ‘go-to’ U.S. state,” Petkus said.

A contingent of Polish dignitaries will be honored with proclamations during the floor sessions of the state Senate and Assembly on Tuesday.

The weeklong business and education mission wraps up Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas.

The focus of the trade mission will be cooperation in the mining, water technology and unmanned aerial vehicle sectors.

Until recently, Nevada was not on Poland’s radar.

“We started working with Poland and Nevada in 2011, right after the current administration took office,” said Petkus, who has lived in Nevada for 23 years.

Economic development has been a priority for Sandoval, who has taken a global view of opportunities. The Republican has visited 11 countries, championing Nevada as a place for foreign companies to do business and tap into U.S. markets.

“Our trade mission to Poland has been the most successful one yet in terms of the benefits that have come from that,” Sandoval said.

Nevada’s relationship with Poland, he said, “has accelerated more than with any other country.”

OVERCOMING STEREOTYPES

“Our first major obstacle was to tear down the preconceived notion that Nevada was only casinos, as most of the world sees us,” Petkus said. “On the other hand, many here in Nevada knew virtually nothing about Poland other than perhaps pierogies,” he said, referring to the Polish dumplings.

“This took about two years of work to get people on both sides to see that there was actually other things going on in Poland and Nevada, other than what was perceived.”

During this time, Petkus also started working with Pawel Pietrasienski, trade consul minister at the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C., who proved to be a key in connecting trade and educational interests in Poland and Nevada.

Pietrasienski also teaches at the Warsaw School of Economics and is working with Nevada and Nevada’s Polish American Chamber of Commerce to continue fostering relations between the two countries.

Groundwork was laid, with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development visiting Poland, and Polish officials coming here. The getting-to-know-you phase took a big step toward commitment when Sandoval led a trade mission to Poland in 2015, part of a European swing that also included stops in Ireland, England, Germany and Italy.

The trip marked the first economic development mission to Poland that was led by a U.S. governor, said Kris Sanchez, international trade director at GOED.

Two memorandums of understanding were signed, one each with the states of Lubelski and Slaskie. Seven others have been executed since then, including agreements with Employers of Poland, the largest trade organization in that country with 4,500 members.

COLLEGE CONNECTION

The University of Nevada, Reno, has a partnership with Warsaw School of Economics, and UNLV with Lubelski Polytechnic University.

Sanchez said funding provided through the European Union allows American students to study in Europe. Representatives from six universities in Poland will meet with counterparts from UNLV, UNR, Sierra Nevada College, Nevada State College and Truckee Meadows Community College.

The goal, Sanchez said, is to foster student and faculty exchanges and partnerships in research and development. “Often we find that companies are looking at New York, California and Chicago because of historical ties,” Sanchez said.

But when they learn more about Nevada, he said, they realize “we offer them a very competitive alternative.”

Besides Nevada’s friendly business climate, it’s strategically located near Pacific ports as well as the high-tech hub of Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry in Southern California.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Nevada has earned the respect of some of the most influential leaders in Polish government.

Among those leading the contingent of 40 dignitaries, business leaders and academia are Anna Maria Anders, a Polish senator and secretary of state for international dialogue; and Renata Szczech, undersecretary of state for legal and treaty affairs.

Tuesday night, Sandoval will present Beata Drzazga, president of BetaMed, as Nevada’s first business ambassador. BetaMed is Poland’s largest health care company and recently opened its U.S. operations in Nevada, after first considering Florida, Petkus said.

At least three Polish companies — involved in mining, semiconductors and machine manufacturing — are expected to set up operations in Nevada this year.

“The things these folks manufacture, we don’t have anybody in the state doing yet,” Sanchez said.

The largest direct foreign investment from Poland into the U.S. is by KGHM, which owns the Robinson Mine in Ely.

LOOKING BEYOND

Just as Nevada offers Polish companies a gateway to the U.S., so too, does Poland open doors for Nevada, Sanchez said.

“Poland is a hub for Eastern Europe,” he said. “So this is not just a focus on Poland. We’re looking at pulling from that whole region.”

Nevada’s focus is to attract small-to-midsize companies “that have proven themselves in the European market, that have great products, that have done the assessment themselves to know that they need to be in the U.S,” Sanchez said.

“It is unique that we have gotten overwhelming support at multiple levels of government throughout Poland,” Sanchez said.

“The goal is to drive more investment into the state and have jobs created here,” he said. “That’s the purpose of why we’re doing this.”

Contact Sandra Chereb: schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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