John Freivalds, a veteran Twin Cities businessman, Latvian immigrant and recently named Minnesota’s first honorary counsul for Latvia, will recognize a long-held dream on Thursday when he is joined by the Latvian ambassador in opening a Latvian consulate office at a reception Thursday at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
The event also will include the Minnesota Trade Office, which is planning a trade mission to the country of about 2.5 million people on the Baltic Sea that also borders Russia.
The duty of Freivalds, appointed by Latvia and authorized by the U.S. State Department, is to promote Latvia, its business and culture in Minnesota. A native of Latvia, Freivalds’ family fled the country when he was an infant as Soviet troops in 1944 invaded the the Baltic states as Germany retreated in World War II.
Frievalds, who graduated from the Georgetown University School of Diplomacy in 1966, 10 years after immigrating to the U.S., chose the commodity-trading business instead of foreign relations.
“I graduated from Georgetown in 1966 and thus received my first diplomatic posting 53 years after graduation,” according to prepared remarks he will deliver Thursday. “That must be some sort of record.
“I was born in Latvia on the same farm and in the same room as my father and grandfather. I became a refugee from communism and live in a displaced person camp in Salzburg Austria for years.
“For thirty years I worked in the commodity trading business and traveled to some 55 countries which are many of today's' hotspots: Iran, Cuba, Russia, Kazakhstan, Israel, Venezuela. I took my first trip back to Latvia in 1989 as member of a trade mission organized by American-Latvian businessmen. I took the first proposal from the Radisson Hotel group to Latvia which now has three hotels in [the capital city of] Riga.”
Latvia has been a democracy since the collapse of the former Soviet Union and also is a member of the U.S.-aligned North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 3M also has a Latvian facility.
“Latvia abounds with entrepreneurs in a lot of different areas from software to medtech to wood products, chocolates, sprats, and now even vodka as the famous Stolichnaya brand,” Freivalds said. “Once Russian, it is now distilled in Latvia. One of my jobs is to connect these people to Minnesota companies.”
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