Ports, airports and data cables connect the world like never before. But it’s human beings and their communities who cement those ties.
In Illinois those include an array of ethnic communities descended from generations of migrants; a diverse roster of globally respected higher education institutions; and an increasingly long list of foreign-based multinationals invested in the state.
This human worldwide web also includes nearly 90 international consulates and trade offices. One of them is the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, where Piotr Janicki currently serves as consul general. His team works hand in hand with the Polish Foreign Trade Office in Chicago headed by Michal J. Rzeznik.
How have 160 years of cultural connection between Poland and Illinois translated into business and trade over the years?
Michal J. Rzeznik: The cultural connections tying together Poland and the U.S., not to mention Illinois, have proved to be a great catalyst in developing mutual business interests and trade relations. During the last decade, the total trade between the United States and Poland tripled. Last year, Poland was the U.S.’s 10th fastest-growing trade partner, with a 7% growth in overall trade. Contributing to the previous year’s expansion in U.S.-Poland trade was a rise in U.S. exports of civilian aircraft, and Polish exports of motor vehicle parts.
As for Illinois, the total trade between the state and Poland rose to almost $700 million in 2019 — more than doubling since 2009. Of the top 100 U.S. investors in Poland, at least six have headquarters in Illinois (Boeing, McDonald’s, Mondelez International, Motorola, Tenneco and Weber-Stephen). Together, they created hundreds of jobs and injected FDI into multiple voivodships across Poland. Polish companies present in Illinois include TF Cable, Booksy, Fakro, Conotoxia, Com.40, and Gastop.
In fall 2018, 19,272 foreign students (10.6% of total students) enrolled at Illinois’ 12 public universities, and 19,448 (9.2%) enrolled at the state’s 104 independent not-for-profit institutions. The three-school University of Illinois System (with flagship campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield) has more than 500 active institutional partnerships representing more than 50 countries. In 2019 the system welcomed more than 10,000 international students hailing from more than 110 countries, and more than 2,000 students study abroad annually.
During my time as the head of the PAIH Foreign Trade Office, I can share that there has been a marked interest from Polish companies to investigate the possibilities in investing in Illinois, as they feel a connection to the state’s Polish heritage. After all, more Illinoisans claim Polish ancestry than in any other state at 7% of the population, and a third of all Polish cultural organizations in the U.S. are in Illinois. I am always thrilled at how frequently I hear at various events and meetings of people’s connections to Poland, whether it be through travel or family. It has proved to be a reliable conversation starter for Polish companies visiting Illinois.
It is important to note that as a newly developed economy, Poland is slowly increasing its outward FDI stock, but it remains a small amount as compared to its total GDP (about 4% in 2019). For nearly 30 years, since 1992, Poland has experienced an uninterrupted growth of its economy averaging 4.2% per annum. It also has the most positive outlook among EU member states for 2020 despite the COVID-19 crisis, and quick economic recovery forecasted for 2021 according to European Commission. Therefore, it is safe to assume that investments from Poland to the U.S., and Illinois, will increase in the coming years based on current trends.
Which business sectors hold the most opportunity for collaboration between Poland and Illinois companies or business clusters?
Rzeznik: Seeing as Illinois has strengths across industries, not unlike Poland, we see opportunities for cooperation in IT/ICT, ag tech, energy, life sciences/health care, and manufacturing. Poland has recently become a home to gigafactories related to automotive cell and battery manufacturing. With LG Chem operating world’s largest cell manufacturing plant in Southwest Poland it is safe to say that our country has become Europe’s hub for e-mobility.
In addition to that, Poland is also competitive in the cosmetics, furniture, construction materials and boating industries. Poland is a top EU exporter of food products, furniture and mid-sized yachts.
How have research and higher learning institutions in Illinois and Poland benefited one another — is there opportunity for more collaboration in this arena?
Rzeznik: The Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) (Polish: Narodowa Agencja Wymiany Akademickiej) aims to internationalize Polish universities and research by working closely with foreign higher education institutions to implement study programs, and by providing scholarships to international doctoral candidates.
State universities across Illinois have entered partnerships with Polish universities abroad. Northeastern Illinois University, for example, partners with four different universities (Warsaw School of Economics, University of Warsaw, University of Gdansk, and the Czestochowa University of Technology) in three cities in Poland. The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) also provides a summer study abroad opportunity for students interested in studying at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
In addition to these partnerships, many Illinois universities offer Polish study opportunities on campus through their foreign language departments; this provides students with additional exposure to Polish language and culture. Considering the significant Polish diaspora in Illinois as well as Poland’s rapid development over the years, there many more opportunities for collaboration at the higher education level.