Making The Beautiful Izmir A World City and Brand City

Ekrem Demirtas, President of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce.

Populated by more than 3.8 million people, Izmir is the third biggest city in Turkey. It has the second largest industrial capacity, after Istanbul.
İzmir has an importance in Turkish-American relations as well. The first American company that made investment in Turkey was the David&Orfey Company, which was established in 1811. Also the first American Consulate was established in İzmir.
The city has a ninety-year tradition of hosting fairs.  The Izmir International Fair is one of the biggest international fairs in the world and Izmir hosts more than 30 specialized trade fairs. Among these fairs, it is possible to find the world’s largest, which is the case for the marble fair.

The Izmir Chamber of Commerce, with its 124 years of history and nearly 70.000 members, is one of the strongest professional organizations in Turkey. Ekrem Demirtas, President of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce, answered TurkofAmerica’s questions about Izmir and its future.

Would you give us some brief information about the Izmir Chamber of Commerce? What studies have your Chamber conducted to increase the foreign trade of Izmir in particular?
The Izmir Chamber of Commerce, with its 124 years of history and nearly 70,000 members, is one of the strongest professional organizations, not just in Izmir, but in all of Turkey.  Our Chamber, gaining its strength from law, is working on one hand to improve its members’ trade and provide competition for trade activities of its members, and on the other hand continues its activities on the vision of “Making the beautiful Izmir a world city and brand city.” The E-Chamber project has been successfully implemented and technological developments are always included in work processes in our Chamber. In addition, different activities are organized by our Chamber’s dynamic and experienced staff.  In accordance with the demands of our members, educational courses are organized, research studies are conducted for sectoral development and meetings are convened.  We conduct special studies especially for our members, in which the a great deal of data is gathered, and we closely follow all of Izmir’s problems. In addition to our projects which are conducted for making Izmir a brand city, we also give great attention to projects regarding social responsibility.

In the context of all these studies, foreign trade, fairs and tourism have a special place.  As we considered that we cannot reach our desired wealth by doing trade only among ourselves, we are working to carry our members to foreign markets. Our Chamber is the first and only Chamber in Turkey giving fair incentives to its members.   In accordance with this target, we organize foreign and domestic missions, organize umbrella organizations and give foreign trade education.

We help and give great support to foreign investors’ that are keen to cooperate with our members and invest in Izmir.  I would like to underline that we are ready to give all kind of support to American companies and work as a guide for them in Izmir in terms of investment and trade.

What are the ways to make Izmir, as being the opening gate of Turkey to the world, an international magnet?
Several cities in the world have economically developed by organizing successful international activities. For instance, the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, the Montreal EXPO in 1967, and the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 paved the way for fundamental transformation in these cities and these cities became magnets.
These kinds of successful organizations not only contribute to the economy of the city but also develop tourism and contribute to job creation. Therefore, cities face the challenging candidacy race to host the Olympics, EXPOs, World Cups and cultural festivals. When a city organizes an international activity, this activity works as a driving force.

Our Chamber organizes cultural, sports, political and economic activities in order to make Izmir “a brand city” in the global sphere and attract the attention of the press and media. We believe that such kinds of activities keep the city’s liveliness. We began the process in 1992 to host EXPO 2000.  To show how difficult is it to become a member of these organizations, look at the fact that our candidacy for EXPO 2015 was accepted. Our Chamber was the driving force during our EXPO candidacy.
Izmir’s EXPO candidacy caused liveliness and great excitement in the city. Although we lost against Italy’s Milan, our city had great success in becoming a brand city, voiced its name in the world and made infrastructure works.  The most important thing here is Izmir learned to play for high stakes. Today, big infrastructure investments, which were in our candidacy dossier, are being implemented by government and local authorities.
To use the experience of our EXPO candidacy, we established an “International Events Department” in our Chamber and we took the results of this department’s studies in a short time. Firstly, in September 2008, we organized “Mediterranean Port and Trade Cities: Past and Future Congress” in which the presidents of chambers of commerce and academicians came together. We decided to organize this congress every year in Izmir. Thanks to this, Izmir gained an international congress.  After this congress, in November 2008, we organized the 9th North-South European Economic Forum in which we hosted the presidents of Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia along with our President.

On the other hand, I would like to remind everyone that Izmir has a ninety year tradition of hosting fairs.  In addition to the Izmir International Fair, which is among one of the biggest international fairs in the world, Izmir organizes more than 30 specialized trade fairs. Among these fairs, it is possible to find the worlds’ biggest, such as marble fair. Therefore, we give great importance to supporting fairs.
Our Chamber continues to study how to bring big international organizations to Izmir in 2009 in the fields of culture, economy and sport.

If an American company should plan to invest in Izmir, which sectors could be considered? Do sectors like clean energy and organic food, which are rising sectors in America, have potential in Izmir?
If we look at the foreign companies in Izmir, we see that they mainly focused on wholesale and retail trade, and the manufacturing industry. There are different sectors in Izmir for foreign investors; some of these sectors are construction, the agriculture industry, logistics, renewable energy, cruise tourism, thermal tourism, health tourism and the IT industry.   

Organic farming in Izmir is getting stronger every day. In the first years, few products were produced organically but today product diversity is over 200. The organic production of agricultural products like apples, tomatoes, wheat, grapes, olives, olive oil, lentils, hazelnuts, apricots, berries, figs, peas and pistachios are increasing.  From organic honey to organic wet fruits and vegetables and dried tomatoes, I think all organic products should attract great attention in America. In addition, we want to see our olive oil products more in American markets. Today, we export 11,000 tons of olive oil to the U.S. and we continue to work to increase this volume.

As for the renewable sector, Izmir has great opportunities. Izmir is the third most important region of Turkey in terms of wind potential. Izmir has 31% of Turkey’s wind electricity power stations; however it uses just 1% of its potential. In addition to wind energy potential, Izmir’s geothermal energy potential is very powerful. Izmir’s geothermal energy resources, with its very high temperature, are very suitable for electricity energy production.       

İzmir has an importance in Turkish-American relations. The first American company that made investment in Turkey was the David&Orfey Company, which was established in 1811. Also the first American Consulate was established in İzmir. Regarding the last 200 years, what are the projects of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce in order to reanimate  trade relations with the United States?  
A century ago, from the inner port that used to exist in front of our Chamber’s building, ships were leaving for New York once a week. As you underlined within your question the first American Consulate was established in İzmir. Definitely there are strong ties between Turkey and the United States.
Regarding the strong ties, United States’ strong economy and the potential of our region, we find the relations between İzmir and the United States deficient. For that reason we are building projects. The United States Office of the Commercial Counsellor is working in our Chamber’s building. We give great importance to this issue because we believe with the help of the Commercial Counsellor we can improve the relations between İzmir and the United States. We have strong relations with the Commercial Counsellor.

After the closure of the United States Consulate in İzmir, we made great effort to reopen the Consulate; but we did not reach a successful conclusion. For a period of time the Counsellor worked as a representative but then it was again closed. Although we did not reach a conclusion in reopening the American Counsulate in İzmir, we will continue to work on this issue.
It is important to have direct flights from the United States to İzmir. There must be direct flights from New York to İzmir. We are currently working on this issue.

Our Chamber gives great importance to the matter of improving tourism in İzmir. In this context we are working on a special project in order to improve the cruise tourism in İzmir. We achieved the goal of our project. In five years time, İzmir started from zero and became one of the first three cruise ports in Turkey. Also we give importance to hosting the American tourists coming by the cruises to İzmir. Starting from 2007, also with the initiative of our Chamber, American cruise lines started coming to İzmir. When we look at the figures, in 2006, 11,000 American tourists visited İzmir with the cruises. In 2007, this number nearly tripled and reached  37,594. And in 2008 the number of American tourists reached nearly  39,000. We want to increase this number. We are still working on this issue. Lastly we attended the cruise fair in Miami and promoted our city.

Especially at the beginning of the 1990’s, thousand of Turkish Jews from İzmir immigrated to the United States. Today, there are still Americans who see themselves as from İzmir. Do you think of benefitting from those connections in implementing the commercial potential of İzmir? ‘Through TurkofAmerica, what would you like to ask of your citizens?
Our citizens from İzmir living in the United States can pioneer the promotion of İzmir in the United States. Our citizens can help us in organizing bilateral trade delegations. Bilateral trade can only improve with bilateral meetings. On this issue İzmir Chamber of Commerce is ready to cooperation and ready to help.

What are sectors in which the businessmen from İzmir want to make connections in the United State? Which products or services from İzmir can attract customers in the United States?               
Those sectors can be underlined as ready to wear products, processed natural stones, machines and tools, jewelry products, vehicle parts, food products and tobacco.
Besides the ready to wear products, there are great opportunities in food, tobacco and jewelry products in İzmir. The productions in these sectors are made according to international standards for the world markets and the production capacity is extremely high. In order to increase the export of those products from İzmir to the United States, it will be useful to make special promotions and to increase participation in fairs.

By the end of 2007 the number of American companies in Turkey reached  57. Is this figure enough for the potential of izmir? What can be done in order to increase this figure?
I believe, whether the number of 57 American companies in İzmir increases ten times, this figure is not enough for the potential of İzmir. Within the global economic system, İzmir is an improving city and every single day İzmir economically grows bigger and bigger. For that reason the potential of the city is fluid.
The İzmir Chamber of Commerce is working hard in order to increase not only the number of American companies but also the number of other companies as well. Together with the symposiums, fairs and road-shows organized, by giving great importance to the promotion of the city, the İzmir Chamber of Commerce is working hard to increase the number of foreign companies in the city.

The last official visit by the İzmir Chamber of Commerce to the United States took place in May 7-15, 2000. From that period of time a lot of American officials, the ambassador, consular and commercial attachés, visited the İzmir Chamber of Commerce. But no other visits were made in order to examine the American market. Are there any plans in order to make visits to the United States aimed to accelerate the trade relations especially in the Obama period?
We invited President Obama to İzmir right after his visit to Turkey. His visit to İzmir is important in the promotion of İzmir and the historical relations between İzmir and the United States.

In addition, we are planning to organize road-shows to various countries. We are planning to promote İzmir and attract the attention of the businessmen during our visits. New York is one of the cities in which we planned to organize a road-show and we are still working on this issue.

What is more, the İzmir Development Agency Investment Support Office will organize a visit to the United States. We may also join this visit.                
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07