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Raising Switzerland's profile in the US

Dominique Schinabeck heads the only Swiss company in Pittsburgh swissinfo.ch

Putting Switzerland on Americans’ radar will be the main priority for the new Swiss honorary consul to the United States city of Pittsburgh.

This content was published on August 2, 2010 - 11:53

Dominique Schinabeck tells swissinfo.ch how, as an “unofficial ambassador”, she plans to put Switzerland on the map.

The 44-year-old will be juggling her new diplomatic role with being a mother to a 17-month-old daughter and the CEO of the American subsidiary of Swiss company Acutronic, whose main clients include Nasa and Sandia, nuclear arms research and development contractors for the Pentagon.

swissinfo.ch: What is the role of an honorary consul and what are your priorities in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania?

Dominique Schinabeck: An honorary consul is a kind of unofficial ambassador for Switzerland. My role is to inform and help Swiss travellers who visit Pittsburgh and its region and Swiss nationals who live here. I also inform Americans who are interested to travel or invest in Switzerland. Therefore, the role of the honorary consul is both administrative and representative.

My main priority is to put Switzerland on the map. That means increasing awareness of Switzerland with people in Pittsburgh and the rest of western Pennsylvania and presenting Switzerland as a good investment opportunity for American companies. One of our important projects is to wrap up the fundraising and complete the construction of the Swiss Room, a classroom that will be transformed into a showcase of Switzerland at the University of Pittsburgh.

swissinfo.ch: How visible is Switzerland today in the Pittsburgh area?

D.S.: There are 300 to 400 individuals who have links with Switzerland here. The Swiss-American Society of Pittsburgh has about 70 family members. So, there is some awareness already. People in this area have some knowledge of Switzerland. As far as I am concerned, I am succeeding Heinz Kunz who was a wonderful honorary consul for almost two decades in Pittsburgh.

swissinfo.ch: The most prominent member of the Pittsburgh Swiss-American community, football star Ben Roethlisberger, has been accused of rape twice recently. No charges have been filed but he’s been suspended for six matches. Has this affected his relations with the Swiss-American community?

D.S.: Ben Roethlisberger is an idol for a lot of young people. Now, he’s trying to correct his image and it’s important that he do that.

We have had low key contact with him for a long time regarding the Swiss Room project. In the past, he has donated autographed T-shirts and balls that are auctioned to benefit the Swiss Room. But I believe that his engagement in projects like this one can help restore his image so that he can say, “Hey, I can do good things”.

swissinfo.ch: Honorary consul is just one of your many activities…

D.S.: Yes, I’m the CEO of the American subsidiary of Acutronic, a Swiss company, and I’m the mother of a little girl who is 17 months! Managing all that is a question of organisation. It’s about structuring things and getting the help you need.

swissinfo.ch: What is the profile of Acutronic in the US?

D.S.: We have 50 employees in Pittsburgh. We design and manufacture testing and motion simulation systems for measurement systems and sensors that can go in anything, from an airplane to a satellite, a ship or a car. Those are precision instruments that get tested on our equipment.

Our competitor is Ideal Aerosmith, an American company. Sixty per cent of our clients are in the aerospace and defence sectors, 20 per cent in satellites, 10 per cent in automotive. Other applications like ships, ports would be the rest.

swissinfo.ch: The US is waging two wars, one in Afghanistan, another in Iraq. Acutronic being very involved in defence, would the announced withdrawal of US troops and the expected end of those conflicts have an impact on the company?

D.S.: No, because tactical war doesn’t have much of an impact on Acutronic. We are more oriented toward the response to global threats. In addition, our activities are already diversified and we have a strategy to develop our business in the commercial, non military sector.

swissinfo.ch: Now, you have dual citizenship, both Swiss and American. Why?

D.S.: I was born in Boston to an American mother and a father who was both American and German. When I was five years old, we moved to Switzerland. I grew up in Zug. Years later, my family went back to America and I decided to stay and attend St Gallen University. Then, I started as a professional in Switzerland and in 2006, Acutronic sent me to Pittsburgh.

swissinfo.ch: How did it feel to be back in the US, to you, an American who speaks English with a Swiss-German accent?

D.S.: Well, at first, it’s always a shock to your system because you’re in a new environment and there’s a different way of doing things. It took me about three months to get acclimated here in Pittsburgh. But now, I really enjoy it.

There are pros and cons in both countries and I think that, if you live somewhere, you have to accept both the pros and the cons, and see the good part. I mean, I like arts and culture and here in Pittsburgh, there’s an excellent symphony orchestra, excellent museums, great recreation opportunities. We have parks, you can go hiking, biking and golfing here. But I think of Zug as my hometown and I’m lucky that I get to go to Switzerland four times a year, both for work at headquarters and to see my friends.

Marie-Christine Bonzom in Pittsburgh, swissinfo.ch

Swiss presence

Among the events being organised by the new honorary consul is a business forum that will bring heads of Swiss companies specialising in technology and ecological construction to Pittsburgh.

Acutronic is the only Swiss business in Pittsburgh.

Around 300-400 residents have ties to Switzerland.

A Swiss Room, a historical presentation on Switzerland and its values, is expected to open at the University of Pittsburgh in 2011.

Pittsburgh is the second biggest city in Pennsylvania, one of the five US states most densely populated with people of Swiss origin.

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Dominique Schinabeck

Honorary consul for greater Pittsburgh since October 2009. Replaced Heinz Kunz, former professor of medicine who was in the post from 1990-2008 and who heads the organising committee of the Swiss Room.

CEO of the American subsidiary of Acutronic, which is headquartered in Bubikon.

Mother of a 17-month-old daughter.

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