'Everything you do around bikes is amazing'

In an easy chair in the foyer of TNO's Utrecht office, I meet Nicholas ‘Nick’ F. Masino. He is President and Chief Executive Officer at Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. So he is from Georgia (USA) and works in Metropolitan Area of Atlanta. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is very important to the regional economy and has a large share of international business activity. Nick Masino is not alone: he has a delegation with him who are led throughout. Of course, in doing so, they also visit the EU's most competitive region: Utrecht.

2 June 2023 4 minutes

What are similarities between where you come from and this region?

Masino: “That question is extremely easy to answer: working together. You call that ‘tripple helix’, we just call it collaboration. Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce also plays an important role in that: we put different parties at the same table and say: let’s partner up! Let’s get on the same page! I also see that in Utrecht: this is an economically strong region and that is precisely because of the close-knit networks.”

What differences did you notice?

Masino: “I can’t believe how well you speak English. I heard about that, but English is really the second language here. That’s nice for me, but also ensures that companies can get a ‘soft landing’ here. I want to mention it because you think that is normal, but even in Europe it is not normal. In Italy I really have to do my best to distinguish English words through the heavy accent, and in Germany it is not normal to have a conversation in English either. Here it is: from young people to old people: you can ‘just’ speak English very well.

Anyway, you asked about the differences… I think connectivity is a very important one. When you get off the train, the buses are already there. And when you get off the bus, you get on the streetcar in no time. And the role of bicycles in that really stands out: we also have bike lanes, but they’re empty. Here you can cycle beautifully through the greenery and you’re fast too! I also notice that many people walk in the centre of Utrecht and get all the space they need. In terms of connectivity, we really could learn a thing or two from the Dutch.

At the risk of getting stuck in clichés: you are very direct. And I appreciate that enormously. You know where you stand. I have no idea how that came about, but I think it’s fairly unique. I think it’s already different in Germany and Belgium. For trade this is a big advantage: you can assume that what is said is what is meant. So you can get to deals together relatively quickly.”

Take a moment to go over today’s program. Where have you been and what are you taking with you?

Masino: “It was a long day with many impressions. We started at the city office. There we talked about finding talent for technical jobs in the region. A great system has been set up for this that is already bearing fruit. We also learned about the Utrecht Welcome Center. Several companies or institutions claim to be a ‘one stop shop’, but this is the real deal. Usually in practice, for example as an expat, you still have to knock on several counters. Now you don’t. And that’s unique. If you are a new resident you can register in one and the same place, arrange housing, day-care for your child and see what job suits you best.

In addition, we visited Dotslash (pictured). A location on the edge of the city where several buildings have been renovated and prepared to welcome startups. Jelle Drijver (pictured) explained how this has really become a hotbed for innovation. There we also got to meet Fentener van Vlissingen. Finally, we had a tour of the Utrecht Science Park.”

What was your highlight?

Masino: “I thought it was very special to meet Mr. Fentener van Vlissingen. Also someone who, despite his status, can be very direct. I like that, because it also allows me to ask what I want. Van Vlissingen is very approachable, smart and humble. I find it really impressive what he has done, in the Netherlands and in America. He also has a home in Atlanta. Besides Utrecht, he is also at home with us. I met him about 12 years ago, that was already very special. Of course it is extra special that I was able to meet him again.”

What do you think of where you are now, the Utrecht Science Park?

Masino: “The Utrecht Science Park is great! Here you see not only university buildings, but also hospitals, research facilities and the private sector. I would call this a ‘centre of excellence’: everything comes together here. And the way this happens is, again, breath-taking: roads, railroads, bike lanes… Again: everything you do here around ‘the bicycle’ is special: here I really see thousands of bicycles, precisely because Utrecht literally gives ‘priority’ to the bicycle.”

Nicholas Masino concludes: “Next time I would love to bring companies here as well. To also give them a taste of the welcoming climate for entrepreneurs, Dutch people who do think very differently. Then we’ll make a tour by bike!”

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