Oct 3, 2022

New Swiss Consul General brings deep Latin American expertise

Urs Broenniman plans to finish out his storied diplomatic career in Atlanta

Much like his predecessor, Urs Brönnimann will probably be in Atlanta until his diplomatic career comes to a close. 

The newly arrived Swiss consul general replaces Peter Zimmerli, who recently departed after serving more than five years in the role, a period that was extended beyond its normal duration partly due to COVID-19 but mainly because it was his final stop in a long diplomatic career. 

Mr. Brönnimann comes to Atlanta with similarly decorated history that includes five postings in Latin America. His most recent full posting, from 2017-21, was in São Paulo, where he happened to replace another Swiss consul general that had served in Atlanta in the four years leading up to 2013: Claudio Leoncavallo. The territory of the Atlanta consulate covers 11 states (including Texas and Florida) and the Cayman Islands. 

Immediately before being assigned to Atlanta, Mr. Brönnimann spent January to June in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the lone African posting on his resume, which also includes prior stints at the Swiss consulate in Chicago in the 1990s and as head of the commercial service at the Swiss Embassy in Washington in the late 2000s. He has also served in Europe and Asia. 

Coming back to the U.S. to likely finish things out was a “privilege,” he told Global Atlanta in an interview.

“My wife and myself, we are very happy to be back in the U.S.,” he said — and particularly in the South, where the Swiss economic presence is solidly felt but not deeply understood. Many know that Switzerland is one of the largest foreign investment sources for the United States, supporting 500,000 American jobs despite its small size. But more work needs to be done to solidify the country of 10 million “on the map,” and to tell companies about the growth trends in the South.  

The consulate will also continue to make the case that Swiss products and technologies are helping to bolster American resiliency, an important point as trade relationships are increasingly viewed through the lens of national security and supply-chain challenges. 

The importance of deepening the trading relationship is already showing up in the numbers, Mr. Brönnimann said. 

“What is new since last year is that the United States is now the most important export destination for Swiss goods, before Germany,” Mr. Brönnimann said. 

He added that he is looking forward to getting to know his consular colleagues, particularly practicing his Spanish and the Portuguese that he picked up during his time in Brazil — his fifth language after German (his mother tongue), Spanish, French and English. 

While he learned French and English in school, Spanish didn’t come until later, when Mr. Brönnimann was assigned to Lima, Peru, just after his consular training. The language ability he gained helped set his trajectory in the foreign ministry, as Bern continued to assign him to Spanish-speaking countries like Bolivia, Costa Rica and even Cuba during the 1990s, when Switzerland still represented U.S. diplomatic interests in the “United States Interests Section” of its embassy in Havana until 2015, much like it still does in Iran today.  (The U.S., which didn’t have official ties with the Caribbean island, concurrently provided its own consular services at a building that on its own was much larger that the Swiss presence.)

“I got to see what socialism is, and it was very oppressive,” he said. 

The U.S., of course, will be a different story, and Switzerland’s work in the South will largely be around economic and cultural diplomacy, Mr. Brönnimann wrote in a letter from the Swiss consulate to the community. 

“Specifically, I am looking forward to collaborate with the Swiss Business Hub USA on promoting Swiss exports to the Southeast and American investments in Switzerland,” he wrote. “In addition, I am eager to work with Swissnex to promote scientific relations, research, and innovation. Through a close partnership with Switzerland Tourism, I will also focus on promoting travel to Switzerland. Finally, I will join efforts with Pro Helvetia and Presence Switzerland to create a better understanding for Swiss culture and all things Swiss.”

Kimberly Schulman, the longtime Atlanta-based rep at the Swiss Business Hub USA, continues promote commercial links, and the consulate aims to get even deeper support from the Swiss American Chamber of Commerce Southeast, which is in the process of reinvigorating its activities and membership after installing a new leadership team. 

Mr. Brönnimann also recently hosted honorary consuls from Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Miami, the Carolinas, and the Cayman Islands in Atlanta for a meeting that provided updates on consular affairs. 

Learn more at the Swiss Consulate’s website here.