How Charlotte becomes a headquarters of the German economy

Charlotte It’s a home like so many in this upscale residential area of ​​Charlotte. It is one and a half stories high, made of light-colored natural stone, and the blue front door is adorned with a wreath of autumnal flowers. And yet each of the guests on this Monday evening knows that they are right and welcome here. A German and an American flag are stuck in the flower tubs to the right and left of the entrance stairs.

It is the house of Klaus Becker and his wife Concha. He has been Germany’s honorary consul in Charlotte for seven years. An office that he fulfills with physical strength and the warmth of his heart. Just as he once made his money trading steel, the 66-year-old looks after transatlantic relations with similar energy. He has lived in Charlotte for 40 years. With his “NC Zeitgeist Foundation”, Becker is something like the father of a German-American economic dream in North Carolina.

On this Monday evening a few weeks ago, Becker is really in his element again. He invited people to a reception in his own home, in honor of the Rhineland-Palatinate Minister of Economics, Volker Wissing, who is visiting with a business delegation. With a big smile, open arms and a loosely fitting blue double-breasted suit with gray pinstripes and a red pocket square, he greets his guests: “A warm welcome to my home!”

More than 50 of them pass his German and American flags. They populate the dining, living and fireplace rooms, eat roast beef, pasta and brownies and drink Rhineland-Palatinate wine. German and English are spoken. And it’s about business, business, business – and of course also about the German-born US President Donald Trump.

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Charlotte, this 850,000-inhabitant city, whose name many of those present did not even know until recently, is one of the fastest growing business locations in the USA. The list of German companies that have a branch here is long, 213 very precise. It contains the who’s who of the German economy. Half of the Dax and MDax are represented – with Bayer, BASF, Deutsche Post, Bahn and Lufthansa, Daimler, Hochtief, Lanxess, Siemens, Thyssen-Krupp. 90 miles away, in Spartanburg, the car manufacturer BMW also has its 11,000-employee plant for the X models. There are also significant, unlisted companies such as Bosch, Schaeffler and ZF, as well as many smaller companies.

The business location Charlotte is a refreshing piece of desired normality in an overall crazy time of German-American relations. Punitive tariffs and a trade war dominate the political debates between the two countries. Again and again, the US President’s verbal abuses on the Twitter news service cause upset not only in diplomatic circles. These are actually not good prerequisites for doing business and investing.

Little of the noise can be felt in the city of Charlotte. Tradition applies here that is also German. The city, founded in 1867, and the surrounding region, County Mecklenburg, are named after Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the German wife of King George III of England. And the city and region owe their rise above all to German companies and managers. And there are more and more.

According to information from the Handelsblatt, several other German companies from the food industry, mechanical engineering and the automotive industry are available. It only leaves the uncertain US economic policy waiting for better times. The city is also attractive within the USA. The packaging specialist Pester from Wolfertschwenden in the Allgäu is relocating its US branch from New Jersey to Charlotte.

What makes the “Queen City” – as it is also called – so attractive, especially for German entrepreneurs and top managers?

It’s the business-friendly climate. Corporate tax is now just 2.5 percent, the lowest rate of any US state with corporate tax. The working-age population is well educated. Almost half have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are 15 research universities in the city and region, including the renowned Duke University. With its location on the east coast, Charlotte is also relatively cheap for German companies. The time difference is only six hours instead of nine hours as on the west coast. There are daily direct connections to Frankfurt and Munich.

Around 2.5 million people live in the Charlotte region and, statistically speaking, 102 new people are added every day. According to the recommendation portal Yelp, Charlotte is the city in the US that offers the greatest economic opportunities. 200,000 new jobs have been created since 2001. The cost of living is below the national average. The income tax is five percent. There are an average of 226 days of sunshine a year, and Charlotte is neither an earthquake nor a hurricane area.

The location between the expensive northeast coast with New York, Boston and Washington DC and the hot and humid southeast with Miami is so attractive that it can even survive structural crises. The textile machine manufacturer Trützschler from Mönchengladbach came to Charlotte 50 years ago.

At that time, the region was set as the center of the American textile industry for the family business. Trützschler has prospered accordingly for 30 years in the industry. After China joined the WTO in 2001, the textile industry in the southeastern United States collapsed, with a few exceptions. Truetzschler was also in a crisis.

However, the family business stuck to the North Carolina location. New business areas were sought and found. Today “American Trützschler” manufactures fittings and switch cabinets and is very active in service. “The simplest solution would have been to close the plant in the mid-2000s. However, the family and management have chosen to stay. Our employees here are very well trained and loyal. We didn’t want to give up on you and access to the market, ”explains Stefan Engel, head of American Trützschler.

Another example of local German entrepreneurship is BASF. The chemical company has been in Charlotte since 1985. The city is now the headquarters of the BASF division “Dispersions and Resins”. Innovations such as the reflective “Instant Set” roof coating and the Acrodur binding agent for lightweight components made from natural, glass and synthetic fibers were created here. The location with around 300 employees is therefore being expanded further. “For our business, Charlotte is known for its proximity to industry and our sales markets,” explains Denise Hartmann, co-managing director of the division. Charlotte is also important “when attracting new talent”.

The potential of well-trained employees is the main reason for many companies to relocate to Charlotte after its geographically favorable location. And the city has a lot to offer in the field of training. It is no longer just the state and private universities that supply the region with graduates.

With the Technical Institute of the Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), which was newly established this year, new standards have been set. It is based on the German dual training system, works very closely with the established companies and offers its around 1000 students training workshops with machines from Festo, Siemens and Oerlikon.

There is also a lot going on in applied cutting-edge research. For example, the Center for Experimental Software Engineering (CESE) of the US division of the Fraunhofer Society recently entered into an alliance with the universities and the South Carolina Department of Economics. Applications for digital transformation are to be developed together.

“Small and medium-sized companies in particular, as we find them in abundance in North and South Carolina and in many rural regions in Germany, will benefit from this,” explains Dieter Rombach, co-initiator of the new alliance and once founder and longstanding director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental software development (IESE) in Kaiserslautern. The focus is on cybersecurity, healthcare and Industry 4.0.


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