Seeking international business connections for Loudoun

 By George Gill  11/08/2005


Wolfgang Tolle, Loudoun international business ambassador, is excited about the county's ability to attract more international businesses in the future, while retaining those already here.  “Loudoun has a real opportunity to be a center for international businesses,” Tolle said. “We've got to do something for that. It's not going to happen on its own, so we need to guide it and help it.” This past summer, the Loudoun Department of Economic Development awarded Tolle, president and CEO of Ashburn-based LaunchDreams LLC, a $27,500 county contract after a competitive selection process in May and June. Tolle is German-speaking and has an extensive background in German and American business. Larry Rosenstrauch, director of the department, said Tolle's work on a pilot program last year had been promising and received a warm response from the Loudoun Economic Development Commission and from elected officials during one of its monthly meetings. Rosenstrauch said that encouraged the department to seek a little more money last year, which included enough to ask Tolle to turn the pilot into a real initiative. “It's a small effort, but it's a great group of people doing the work,” he said. “If we get even modest returns, it's a great return on our investment.”


“We start with the basics,” Tolle said. “This program needs to take care of some of the basics. At the same time, we need to think more long term and we need to develop new relationships abroad, while strengthening the existing ones.” He said his initial goals as international business ambassador are about capacity building and creating a foundation for a long term, successful program. “We're analyzing to find out what kind of international businesses we have in the county,” he said. The initial focus is on German-speaking companies because of Tolle's own background and relationships with international businesses in
Germany. With international businesses, he said, building personal relationships is helpful and important. “If you go abroad, you don't know anyone, you don't know what to do -- so you have to rely on others. For that you need some trusted personal relationships.” Tolle has been a Loudoun resident for 12 years, with affection for both Germany and the United States. “I love this country, and I have both cultural backgrounds – I have both passports now,” he said. He said part of his reason for taking on the international business ambassador's role is personal. “I want to help build relationships between the two countries,” he said.  One of Tolle’s goals was to get some of Loudoun's basic marketing materials produced in the German language. “So far we didn't have marketing materials to show to prospects in German-speaking countries what Loudoun is all about,” he said. “Now we have that in German.”

Loudoun's appeal

Loudoun has a variety of resources that relate to German-speaking countries, he said. One is Dodona Manor in Leesburg, the home of Gen. George C. Marshall, whose Marshall Plan helped rebuild
Germany after World War II. “It's a real resource that's well-known in Germany,” he said. He said they are also looking at why companies would locate in Loudoun. Tolle said an initial analysis showed that, excluding airlines and cargo companies, about 50 percent of the foreign companies presently in Loudoun are German. “If you look at why they locate here, they have some business reasons, especially proximity to Dulles Airport, an absolutely key engine,” he said. The airport serves as a hub to connect the companies with customers in the United States as well as to provide connections to Europe. Proximity to Washington, D.C., is also important as several of the companies want to do business with the federal government. For European companies relocating here, quality of life is especially important, he said. “Questions like 'Where do I put my kids in school?,' 'Where do I buy German bread?,' should not be underestimated,” Tolle said. “As international ambassador, I can play an important role as someone who knows the culture here, who can be a guide and be a helping hand in many respects.”


Tolle said the most direct benefit of international businesses locating in Loudoun is that the companies provide jobs. Such companies are often well established before they decide to add locations in the
United States. “Evidence shows that these companies that tend to come from abroad are companies that typically are already developed, have good product and service that they're trying to sell in this country,” he said. “They are not typically startups.” He said such companies contribute to the corporate tax base for Loudoun and usually are good members of the community as well. Beth Hain, business development manager, added that such companies often want to help protect the quality of life in Loudoun because that's primarily what attracts them. “What attracts a lot of German businesses to Loudoun is our quality of life, ambiance, the experience they get from our towns and villages,” Hain said. “They're advocates for Loudoun.” Tolle said international business can also benefit existing businesses by providing more diversity. “If you connect these foreign companies with local companies, that provides business opportunities for both sides,” Tolle said. “That means a local company could sell or subcontract with one of the companies moving in. Or that could mean the company locally here gets contacts, and could even be interested in exploring markets in Europe, in this case, Germany.” Even though the initiative will focus on Germany to start, Tolle emphasized that he has traveled to 50 countries in the world. “We have a limited amount of resources, so it's really good to start with my existing connections in Germany because of my background,” he said. “Clearly, this is about building an international business program. It's not a German program in the long term, but we have to start somewhere.” Tolle's Ashburn-based business, Launch Dreams LLC, was created to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses or turn them around when they're in trouble.

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