Going Abroad: Supervisors Build Relationships with German Companies

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Megan Kuhn – Leesburg Today

Dec 30, 2005 -- At meetings more than 6,387 miles away, Loudoun County Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) and Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) last week joined Department of Economic Development International Business Ambassador Wolfgang Tolle in visiting economic development executives and governmental counterparts in Deutschland. The fact-finding trip was part of the department’s efforts to attract German-speaking companies to the county.

“International business and economic development is based on relationships,” said Tolle, a native of Hiddenhausen, Germany, who became a U.S. citizen in 2002. The trip capitalized on his decade-long relationship with Hartmut Schwesinger, an executive with the economic development corporation for the Frankfurt region, FrankfurtRheinMain GmbH. “The trip was excellent,” Tolle said. “It exceeded … my expectations. We are looking forward to working with them in the future.”

Berthold Gall, FrankfurtRheinMain’s chairman, invited Tolle and the supervisors in early November to a region west of Frankfurt, Main Taunus Kreis. The growing German county mirrors Loudoun in that it has rural and suburban elements and technology companies. It has about 225,000 residents, including nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens, Tolle said.

Waters said other similarities between the counties include a larger population in the east and rural areas in the west. Both counties are also home to vineyards and wineries. She said Gall was excited to create a partnership between the two counties, both for economic development and week-long cultural exchanges between high school students.

Gall will visit the county later this year, and Waters said supervisors may formalize the partnership after his visit with a resolution. Another trip to Germany to meet with the county’s chamber of commerce and business leaders is also in the works, she said. “The relationship aspect is definitely important when trying to get access to businesses,” Waters said. “[It’s] much better to have someone local who can serve as a reference rather than just going in cold. [We] made a great first start. It’s got a lot of potential.”

Outreach to international business began last summer and county representatives have participated in other relationship-building activities with German-speaking executives. The department’s international business program is not a German program, but it started with German-speaking countries because of the program’s $27,500 budget and Tolle’s background and connections with companies in Germany, he said. By comparison, Fairfax County’s Economic Development Authority has about a $500,000 budget to attract international companies.

Part of Tolle’s role is to retain pre-existing international businesses and to use those companies in the county’s pitch.

Loudoun is already home to 12 German companies, representing 50 percent of Loudoun’s international businesses that are not airport or auto related, Tolle said.

When the airport and auto industry are included, the county is home to companies from at least 42 different countries, Tolle said. He will present this initial study at this month’s economic development commission meeting. This is the first time the county is pursing international business. Tolle said, and, even defining a foreign company has been a challenge. Tolle said most definitions are based on how much of the company is foreign owned, which can be difficult to determine when dealing with private companies.

To build relationships with some of those existing companies, the department held a breakfast Dec. 1 for international executives from seven companies ranging in size and location across the county.

Gerhard Bauer, president of Frenzelit North America Inc. in Purcellville, said the breakfast was helpful because it provided the opportunity to discuss with other international executives the challenges he faces in conducting business outside his homeland.

“It’s easier to discuss it when you can use the same language and have the same mentality and culture,” Bauer said during a telephone interview before leaving for a flight to Germany.

York paid for his airfare and a private donor paid for Waters’ airfare. The trip was Waters first time in Germany. She said because the county cannot afford to open offices abroad, unlike Fairfax County, which has offices in Frankfurt, Tel Aviv, Seoul and Bangalore, India, personal relationships can mean the difference between a company locating in Loudoun or elsewhere.


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