Representatives from the Netherlands were in the Wilmington area Wednesday to explore business opportunities and potential partnerships in Southeastern North Carolina.
It was the first trip to Wilmington for Ard van der Vorst, consul general for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who spoke before a group of about 30 business professionals and local leaders during a luncheon event at Cape Fear Country Club.
His trip to Wilmington on Wednesday, and stop for the luncheon event, were hosted by N.C. Foreign Trade Promotion Council (FTPC), a Wilmington-based organization that aims to educate private businesses in the region and across the state about the opportunities available to facilitate and promote international trade.
Van der Vorst, based out of Atlanta, is the Dutch nation's Southeast representative, covering North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. He aims to strengthen economic ties between the U.S. region and the Netherlands.
"The Dutch are committed to adding a couple hundred thousand jobs in the United States over the next few years and they can easily choose South Carolina, Georgia or some other place in the Southeast, unless we convinced them that Southeastern North Carolina is the place to be," said John Hayes, the executive director of the FTPC. "So that's what we're doing here. I pursued them. I encouraged them to come here and take a look."
The Netherlands is one of many nations the FTPC is bringing in to explore opportunities in the area. Hayes said he plans to have representatives from Austria in town next month and is already discussing opportunities to bring in French representatives at the start of the new year.
It's part of a push the FTPC has to get more eyes on the region, he said.
For the Dutch, Van der Vorst expressed interest in the area's agriculture business and the growing Fintech sector.
He also expressed the desire to work with area leaders to innovate the area's water management.
The Netherlands and Wilmington, Van der Vorst said, have very similar geographies. Both are surrounded by water, have a port system and outside infrastructure that supports logistics and global trade. Both areas of the world also face threats, mainly from hurricanes and flooding, that come with being on the coast.
“Being an economy under threat … we need to have a solution to that," Van der Vorst said.
The Dutch have been coming up with innovative ways, including building large dikes and levees, to keep its towns, people and economy safe from the dangers of flooding, he said, adding that the exchange of ideas could be an opportunity to advance technologies, infrastructure and policy.
Water management drew interest from area leaders at the luncheon event, including New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, Wilmington Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes and city council member Charlie Rivenbark. Many of the leaders agreed that a holistic approach to a management system and financing big projects are issues to overcome for the area. Van der Vorst was also slated to meet with Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo on Wednesday afternoon.
The Netherlands has already been working with other hurricane-prone cities such as Houston, New Orleans and Charleston.
Innovations in water management have also help the nation's agribusiness, he said.
For a nation whose economy lies heavily on agriculture, keeping crops safe from flooding and saltwater intrusion is key. Van der Vorst said that the nation is the second-largest exporter in the world for agriculture, only second to the United States.
"Our companies are looking for opportunities to be apart of this community ... and we can learn from each other, how you do [business], how we do [business]," Van der Vorst said. "We can only get better looking at it from different angles and get ... together."