The past echoes everywhere, but the present is equally compelling. 


Photo by Flickr, Prince Heathen

width=200Vienna is legendary for its Old World charm. Long a vigorous center of culture and commerce, Austria's capital remains desirable due to its location as well as its abundance of music and art. Yet, with all its aristocracy and intrigue (think The Third Man), rich history (it's 5,000 years old) and exquisite architecture, Vienna has lacked modernity. As we head toward the end of the first decade of the new millennium, however, change is in the air and the city of the Hapsburgs is becoming new once again.

Under the Hapsburgs, whose rule lasted for some 600 years, Vienna became the capital of the Austro- Hungarian empire. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Turks tried - to no avail - to capture prized Vienna. But, as the story goes, they did leave their famous coffee behind.

With invasions finally behind it, Vienna began to lay the foundation for what became its famous Baroque charm. Emperor Franz Joseph I was responsible for demolishing the early medieval fortifications and building the magnificent Ringstrasse, changing the physical character of the city forever. The Hapsburg Empire ended after World War I when Austria was reduced to its present size. Sadly, many of Vienna's architectural treasures were heavily damaged during World War II. Austria became free and independent again in 1955.

width=200Visitors today will witness a wave of renovations in the Old City that is returning Vienna to its centuries-old role as a stylish, happening place. Set along the not-so-blue Danube, with a population of 1.6 million living in 32 districts, the city is reemerging as an enticing blend of Old World charm and modern excitement. Still a center of commerce and responsible for 25 percent of Austria's gross domestic product, Vienna is a perfect destination for combining business with pleasure.

Though small geographically, Austria is strategically located in the center of Europe and offers interesting export and investment opportunities. Its well-developed market economy and high standard of living - combined with economic reforms and strong ties to the surrounding region - add to its attractiveness.

Electronics, biotechnology, banking, services and tourism are among the most important industries. More than 350 U.S. firms do business in Austria, with many serving as regional headquarters for Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Balkan countries. Austria - Vienna in particular - faces growing competition from neighboring nations, many of which are now E.U. members, but, at the same time, continues to profit from its ties to these emerging economies. Growing at about 3 percent annually, Austria trades primarily with Germany, Italy and the United States. With the E.U. extending eastward, Vienna is expected to become even more important as a business center, attracting more foreign investors. Yes, this once ultra-conservative city is letting go - with new developments, inviting hotels and exciting restaurants.