Interview with Louis Katsos, President and Founder of EMBCA (the East Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance), an inclusive organization that “brings back the linkages that the people of this region have always had regardless of ethnicity or religion”
Mr. Katsos, how did you come up with the idea to establish EMBCA (the East Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance)?
I have for many years understood, as many who studied our region understand, that our people in the Eastern Mediterranean have been connected to each other for few millennia and it is through those interactions from the Bronze Age, to the Classical Period, to the Age of Alexander, to the Byzantine Period to the Ottoman Empire to the Digital Age that we have learned from each other, traded with each other and shared in a commonality of many cultural and economic things. Although I have been active in the Hellenic community in a large way for example having been the Executive Vice President of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce many of my business events in particular were always multiethnic/multicultural affairs since they attracted people from many backgrounds.
I chose the name EMBCA or the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance to make it more inclusive and to bring back the linkages that the people of this region have always had regardless of ethnicity or religion. There is a link and a historical bond of the people of the region. I chose the word Alliance since the intent of the organization is not to take away anything from any existing ethnic or cultural organization relating to the region but rather an organization that will work with and help others as appropriate.
You have already lined up a number of interesting events, including “In Search OF The Golden Fleece”, on March 24th at the Russian Tea Room. Why should investors and professionals from the development, design, and construction attend this event?
The Development, Design & Construction panel discussion series which I have run for a few years have developed over the years a sort of cult following within the industry professionals since they bring together a high end mix of developers, design professionals, construction executives, bankers, financiers, attorneys and people associated with the industry all in one place to mix and mingle and share information. Part of the series success has to do with the fact that the panel discussions themselves which are unscripted and the questions and answers are not canned, and real relating to what is happening in the industry.
You have about 40 years of experience in this field which is vital to a city like New York. How has this industry changed over the years and what should we expect in the future?
Although no one has a crystal ball into the future there have been and will continue to be rapid changes in the development of technological uses and development of various materials, fabrication techniques and robotics as well as equipment sophistication in the digital age, and the use of foreign materials. Labor may also see the use of more robotic techniques and practices. It terms of the city politics will always play a role in the industry as will the development and market timing cycle (down cycle, absorption cycle, new construction cycle and market saturation cycle), access to capital funds and what is happening in other places in the world and those sources of funds.
There are many in the Albanian community who own businesses or work in construction. And it is the same in a number of ethnic communities in New York, including the Greek-Americans. You have tried to start a wide cooperation between the communities in this field. What has been your experience with this and why is this cooperation important?
Construction has been a financial growth area in particular for ethnic communities as other ethnic groups become engaged over time in other professions or can’t compete. The profession allows access into the work force where language proficiency is not the main criteria for hiring, only hard work, and with a tremendous growth potential to expand one’s business if they do good work and have the right prices. Cooperation is important since in many cases access to work and projects at times is limited by one’s ability to even bid a project, in particular larger projects by comfort bidding barriers within organizations. People in general feel comfortable working with people they know and have worked with and in many cases perceived ethnic companies do not fit into some people’s comfort zone.
Will the 24th of March event also help in this direction?
There is no “magic” event but being and mingling with people who actually for example buy and award contracts and who influence others who buy and award is important as is establishing relationships. The reason why the panel series is always packed is that people there are there to link with other serious people who can influence their business, not to have a drink. Many in the audience are as prominent as those in the panel.
EMBCA seems to have a large scope of interests, including the promotion of the cultural roots of the Eastern Mediterranean. There’s a concert in Harlem coming up as well. How important is this connection to the roots and the celebration of our ethnic and cultural mosaic is in our times?
In my mind there are few things as important as our cultural roots which have for millennia withstood the test of time and have provided the foundation of our various and interlinked cultures. People of all backgrounds have various similarities which at times may not be apparent. For example the East Mediterranean/ Harlem Blues Concert although different music and cultures are about fundamentally Blues common to all who may have for example lost a love, are dispossessed, have lived the underground life, been enslaved economically or otherwise, felt oppression , have gone through hard times, etc.. I think this event, the first of its kind , will be eye opening in that people have commonalities not often thought about and what EMBCA is also about.
What is your message to our readers who come from the area of Eastern Mediterranean and remain proud of their roots while building a new life in the United States of America?
My message is that what is the best of our Eastern Mediterranean roots is also what is the best about being an American. It does not have to be a choice between one or the other and one can be proud of both. One can be fluent in English and fluent in other languages and more valuable because of that. What was true yesterday and has stood the test of time does not become suddenly untrue in a new life or nation , and the respect we have for our background and those that proceeded us should never be taken lightly or we and those that follow us will have get no respect nor be deserving of it.
(Interviewed by Ruben Avxhiu)