Is there a diplomat in the house? Walk into 468 N. Camden St. in Beverly Hills without calling first and you might not realize you've just entered the Norwegian Consulate.
With only a five-minute warning, a Norwegian flag is raised in a non-descript conference room and Norwegian Consul General Richard Fine is ready to handle visa appointments or passport replacements.
If there are no appointments for the day, the flag is put away and the conference room reverts back to being just like every other conference room in the Global Business Centers property.
"I feel like one of the smartest guys in the diplomatic corps," said Fine. He said the move has dropped the annual cost of having a local consulate to $4,000 from $83,000.
The secret is having a "virtual" consulate. The Global Business Centers provide offices for almost 800 small businesses, which pay from $165 to several hundred dollars a month, depending on the amount of services they choose. Rent comes with a 90210 zip code.
Seven receptionists answer phones during the work day each client gets its own phone and fax numbers. The staff also handles mail and overnight delivery for clients by sending instant-messages when a package arrives.
Fine said the Norwegian consulate pays about $350 per month for the virtual office. "There are more people answering the phone here than at any other consulate that Norway has in the U.S. Even if you go to our embassy in Washington, there's only one person answering the phone," Fine said.
The consulate processes about 100 Norwegian passports per year and handled absentee voting during Norway's September elections. There are about 100,000 people of Norwegian descent living in L.A. County, according to Fine.
"I'm competing with the British and the Germans and the French and everyone else and the amount of service I'm able to give is in league with the major consulates in L.A."
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