"Every month there's some Icelanders I know staying in Orlando or visiting or renting a house," says Sigurdur Svansson.
Economic Backbone: Global Florida
Digital marketing firm Sahara takes a European approach to business in the U.S.
When the owners of the Iceland-based digital marketing agency Sahara were looking to expand into the United States a few years ago, Orlando quickly rose to the top of the list of possible locations.
Direct flights between Reykjavik and Orlando made traveling between the two countries relatively easy, and the region has a solid talent pipeline for a growing company. There was also a favorable social dynamic. “There’s a big Icelandic community here, so moving here with the family (three kids) and just settling in was way easier in Orlando compared to any other city in the states. That also played a part in the decision,” says Sigurdur “Siggi” Svansson, CEO and co-founder of the firm.
One of the region’s largest Icelandic enclaves is in Ventura, a 500-acre, gated golf community in southeast Orlando. Kissimmee is another hot spot for visitors from the land of fire and ice, says Svansson. “Basically, every month there’s some Icelanders I know staying in Orlando or visiting or renting a house,” he says.
Svansson says it took about 19 months to open Sahara’s Orlando office even as the COVID-19 pandemic made it slightly more difficult. His advice to other international companies seeking to set up shop in the states is to do what he did and partner with specialists, such as a business immigration law firm, to help guide them through the process and advise them on the intricacies of doing business in the United States.
Navigating the U.S. health care system, for instance, was a bit tricky. Because Iceland provides universal health care for its citizens, Icelandic companies don’t provide health insurance, though they do contribute taxes (based on a percentage of wages) to the government for each worker they employ. “That’s something you don’t have to think about when you live in Iceland. The government says you pay this amount in taxes, and we take care of everything else,” Svansson says.
Svansson says the firm's six Orlando employees get get health and dental benefits, flexible work schedules and paid time off. It’s all in keeping with the values of a country that’s known for promoting work-life balance. “We’re trying to approach it as something that is a little bit closer to the Icelandic market, the European markets,” says Svansson.