Broadway show songs, the world’s most famous surfer, and a sudden accident amaze and entertain at AmCham Tributes

 In AmCham, AWARD, Chambers of Commerce, News, Trade and Investment

Text and Photo: Chris Graeme

It’s not every day that the world’s most famous wave surfer, Garrett McNamara, who broke the world surfing record by skimming a 100 foot wave in Portugal, putting the small and sleepy fishing village and holiday resort of Nazaré on the map, appears at a chamber of commerce dinner.

But that’s exactly what happened at the annual American Chamber of Commerce Gala Tribute Awards (AmCham) that took place on Tuesday, 25 June at the Pestana Palace Lisboa hotel.

And it’s equally unusual for the well-worn cliché beloved of US films and soaps “Is there a doctor in the room?” to be heard. But that too occurred, and right in the middle of the ambassador’s speech, when a loud thud was heard across the room filled with around 200 guests including António Leitão Amaro, the Minister of the Presidency, who is responsible for the coordination of inter-ministerial policies and objectives.

Apparently, a young lady had either fallen off the stage or off her chair. Whether she had just fainted or fell was not established, save to say that the US Ambassador to Portugal, Randi Charno Levine assured everyone that she was ok.

The annual AmCham Tributes event plays tribute to companies and personalities that during the previous year showed outstanding performances that reinforced the transatlantic relationship.

The more that business is increased and the two economies are interlinked, the more the ties between the two countries and societies are strengthened, both of which have a common background, history and values; all the more important to enhance at this current time of geopolitical uncertainty with multiple conflicts and tensions around the world.

Record trade figures

The President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal (AmCham), António Martins da Costa gave a snapshot of the economic ties between Portugal in statistics to illustrate the importance of the relationship.

According to the annual survey of the US Chamber of Commerce from John Hopkins University, the trade and investment between the US and Europe reached US$8.7Tn in 2023 with an impact of 16 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

This amount is an equivalent of around 30% of US GDP, 50% of EU GDP, and 30X Portugal’s GDP.

The survey also showed that 62% of global investment in the US came from Europe, and 61% of US global investment went to Europe.

Moreover, US$38Bn of US R&D spending went to Europe, while US$54Bn of European R&D spending was channeled to the US.

Another significant aspect of the relationship is that data flows via transatlantic cables were twice the traffic of over transpacific and intra-asia groups.

In fact, the US and EU represent over 45% of the world’s wealth measured by GDP. As for the Portuguese-US economic relationship in 2023, there was a sustained growth in bi-lateral business with around €10Bn of US exports of business and services, the US being the fourth destination of Portuguese goods and services and 7% of share.

Portugal imported around US$4Bn of goods and services, representing a share of 3%, and coming 9th position in terms of Portuguese imports.

Foreign direct investment in Portugal with the US as the final counterpart stood at €10.3Bn – the highest for the past five years.

There was a 31% increase in the number of American visitors to Portugal at around 2 million with around 4 million overnight stays.

“The stronger the numbers are, the more prosperous, innovative, creative, free, safe and secure the societies that we live in will be within these two big blocs /EU with Portugal and the US)” said António Martins da Costa.

Shared democratic values

The US Ambassador to Portugal, Randi Charno Levine, reflecting that it might be her last AmCham Tributes (because of the looming US elections in November), reminded that together AmCham’s members and the US embassy had contributed to the robust growth of trade and investment in a partnership built on “democracy and shared values”.

This meant a shared belief in the rule of law, strong institutions with the concept of diversity increasing strength not weakening, with the right of all people to live in a safe and just society, and on a personal note to “leave this world a better place for my children and grandchildren,” said the ambassador some of whose family was at the event.

These democratic values came to mind as Portugal celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution.

Securing communications networks

The ambassador shared some of the highlights of her time in Portugal and reinforced that the US was the Nº1 direct foreign investor in Portugal, and the No1 trade partner after Portugal’s EU partners.

“As companies continue to invest in Portugal they bring capital, technology, know-how, create employment and training opportunities, and enhance Portugal’s global connectivity”, she said giving as an example US technology in undersea cables, more specifically the Nuvem project – a new transatlantic subsea cable that will connect Portugal, Bermuda and the US by 2026.

“Securing communications networks and critical infrastructure requires close collaboration between trusted partners and Portugal’s commitment to these values makes Portugal a natural and valuable ally”, she said.

The ambassador pointed out that Americans were the Nº1 nationality visiting the Azores, while visiting numbers to Portugal as a whole has been forecast to hit 2.6 million this year.

The US-Portuguese scientific and research partnership was “stronger than ever” with long standing collaborations between Portuguese and US universities such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon and UT Texas (Austin).

The ambassador also guaranteed (tongue-in-cheek, no doubt) that she had visited more factories than Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Surfing to success

One of the highlights of the evening was a talk given by US surfer Garrett McNamara who is on record for saying his “relationship with Portugal is for life” and that he felt a certain responsibility to help the country because “I had got everything I had ever dreamed of from Portugal”.

Surfing contributes €400 million to Portugal’s economy, including the industry, services, and events associated with the sport.

Over 200,000 Portuguese practice surfing, while 37.5% of the population purchase surfing-related products even if they don’t surf.

As McNamara says, “everything in life is like a wave, you have to go with it and be flexible because, like life, the wave is always changing.”

Picking up his AmCham Personality Award, he said he was “grateful and humbled to even be considered” and explained how in 2007 he got an e-mail from a local town hall bodyboarder in Nazaré and asked if he could explore Nazaré’s waves and promote the town as a surfing destination. It was his wife Nicole who persuaded him to go.

Twelve years ago, on 1 November 2011 at the age of 44, Garrett McNamara achieved the unthinkable by surfing a 23,77 metre wave at Praia do Norte. That same year he beat the Guinness World record for being the first to do so.

In January 2023, McNamara would beat his own record by surfing a 30 metres wave at Nazaré, and in 2021 HBO did a documentary series ‘The Great Wave of Nazaré’ which told his story and how it transformed the small town into a worldwide surfing destination.

The surfer is now an 8-times Guinness World Record holder for the largest wave ever surfed; part of the only team to have ever surfed waves generated by a 300ft calving glacier in Alaska, and the only foreigner to receive the Vasco de Gama Medal of Honour from the Portuguese Navy for his contribution to Portugal.

And the award goes to…

Isabel Capeloa Gil, the Rector of Lisbon’s Católica University received the ‘Personality of the Year Tribute’ for her outstanding record in the academic field and influence on transatlantic relations, and in her acceptance speech reminded that in the world of corporate and institutional leadership it was “still not a level playing field where women are concerned”.

Janssen Portugal (a Johnson & Johnson Group company – Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine) picked up a Tribute for attracting the group’s Global Medical Safety Hub to Portugal in 2023 in a €5 million investment.

Rita Faden, the President of FLAD (Luso-American Foundation) and former cabinet chief for ex-Prime Minister António Costa, also collected a Tribute for her work promoting Portugal in the United Sates in areas such as culture, education (exchange programmes, scholarships and bursaries), science and technology, among others.

The Portuguese renewables company Endiprev, an international reference in the provision of specialised services, project commissioning, preventive maintenance, as well as major corrective measures, involving onshore and offshore wind energy equipment, won a Tribute for the installation and commissioning of the Block Island Wind Farm. This was the first commercial offshore project in the US, and supporting General Electrics in the Haliade-X Prototype for the installation of the Dogger Bank and the Vineyard wind farms.

Endiprev’s involvement at the Vineyard Wind Farm is multifaceted, with 72 technicians currently on-site. And this number could increase up to 120. Their responsibilities span commissioning, mechanical and electrical work, and high-voltage tasks.

Vineyard Wind 1 and 2, Massachusetts’ first offshore wind projects, are the first large-scale offshore wind farms in the nation to begin initial operations. Vineyard 1 now has five turbines of the 62 planned operating at full capacity and is currently generating 68 megawatts (MW) of power for 30,000 homes, with ambitions to eventually power 400,000 homes in Massachusetts.

The US-based company Five9, which specialises in R&D, AI, software engineering, and cloud operations won a Tribute for establishing its European research, development and software engineering hub in Porto in 2023 creating 300 jobs.

The Lisbon and US based Portuguese seamless multilingual translation service using AI-Powered Language Operations, Unbabel collected a Tribute for its collaborative projects with entities in the US strengthening Portugal-US economic and scientific ties, an example being its involvement in leading a consortium to create responsible artificial intelligence, Centre for Responsible AI – one of the largest in the world, partnering with the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburg, USA.

The technology company recently won €250,000 from the European Commission as one of four winners of its ‘Large AI Grand Challenge’ with 8 million GPU hours to train their models on a couple of the bloc’s high-performance computing (HPC) supercomputers over the next 12 months. The Commission reckons this will enable them to shrink model training times “from years to weeks.”

The evening was rounded off by a few words from the new president of Portugal’s overseas investment and promotion agency AICEP, Ricardo Arroja, in his second event since his appointment in June.

He said that regarding Portugal’s relationship with the US, “the facts speak for themselves” and that his vision for the relationship between the two countries centre around “shared values”

“These are tremendous intangibles that we must respect and nurture, the respect of the rule of law, freedom of choice, and healthy competition in are all values we should foster in business on both sides of the Atlantic to strengthen the transatlantic relationship”.

“Regarding AICEP’s role in investment and export promotion, I think Portugal has to develop our economy and skillsets, we are a welcoming country, we have the technology, but we don’t have that much capital and the Americans can help us in that respect, and most importantly, we have to build a bridge between our traditional sectors and some of the modernising trends that will allow us to leverage those sectors and move into new ones”, he said.

Last, but not least, the evening’s entertainment was provided by Music Theatre Lisbon (MTL) with Broadway classics. Established in 2022 by Portuguese actors Martim Galamba, Sissi Martins and Rúben Madureira, MTL aims to create a Musical Theater Industry in Portugal, building a bridge with Broadway, in Lisbon. The evening and Tribute presentations were delightfully compèred and announced by students from CAISL – Carlucci American International School of Lisbon.