Celle Castle Talk: Business location Lower Saxony

"Business location Lower Saxony - entrepreneurial basis for an export-oriented industry" was the title of the sixth Celle Castle Talk on 13 March 2018. The speakers of the evening quickly agreed that Lower Saxony is a state with great potential. Three important aspects emerged from the discussion on the challenges: infrastructure, shortage of skilled workers and the trade barriers that may result from the punitive tariffs announced by the US administration.

Moderator Jessica Bloem opened the evening with an interview with Harald Becker, "host" in Celle castle and co-organiser of the event, about DMAN's contributions to Lower Saxony as a business location. The academy supports foreign trade activities by teaching foreign managers not only specialist knowledge but also useful information about German mentality and customs, said the DMAN director. And it regularly brings its seminar participants in contact with German companies, which often results in concrete cooperation.

Dr. Volker Schmidt, managing director of NiedersachsenMetall, underlined the problem which the lack of skilled workers means for the Lower Saxony economy. He presented figures from NiedersachsenMetall's latest survey among their metal and electrical member companies. "33 percent of the companies we surveyed have production bottlenecks due to the shortage of skilled workers," Schmidt said. "They cannot accept all orders because they simply lack the personnel to process them." This figure tripled within the past year.

Prof. Michael Hüther, director of the German Economic Institute (IW), put his keynote speech under the title "Lower Saxony in globalisation - federal state with a view". He gave an overview of the economic situation of companies in Lower Saxony, They are more optimistic about the future than the German average, but they see the inadequate infrastructure as the biggest challenge for the business location Lower Saxony - which is not unusual for states with large territories. In general, despite Trump and Brexit, the German economy has so far developed as before, but in view of the threat of protectionism, it is all the more important to conclude trade partnerships: "The CETA trade agreement between the EU and Canada must be ratified in the Bundestag," emphasised Hüther.

Lower Saxony has never been as strong as it is today, said Prime Minister Stephan Weil in the second keynote speech. There are good reasons for self-confidence, but the country is also facing great challenges - especially in the area of infrastructure: "There is a backlog of traffic routes, data networks and energy networks", the Prime Minister stated and announced that "a lot will happen" over the next ten years in order to remedy this situation and create better conditions for digitisation in rural regions, for example.

Stephan Weil confirmed that the shortage of skilled workers now plays a role in almost all industry sectors. "When I speak to entrepreneurs, I almost always hear the request: Prime Minister, see to it that there are qualified young workers." In his view, it is primarily education that helps. "Our plans for non-contributory day care are a building block here, as they should not only relieve families, but integrate children into a good education system as early as possible."

In the panel discussion, Aline Henke, president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Lüneburg-Wolfsburg and managing director of the automotive supplier Hankensbütteler Kunststoffverarbeitung, described the challenges of a medium-sized company: "We always have six to eight trainees, but we now have to invest a great deal into their qualification." The reasons: Vocational schools no longer impart the required knowledge to a sufficient degree. And A-level students tend to prefer university studies over in-firm training. Another problem is the inadequate infrastructure: "We would like to enable our employees to work in a home office. But with DSL 1000, that's not an option."

Dr. Jörg Nigge, mayor of the city of Celle, was reminded by moderator Jessica Bloem that he had announced plans to develop Celle into "Germany's most business-friendly city" at the last Celle Castle Talk. He is working on this with his team and in cooperation with the Celle companies, said Nigge. As proof of these efforts, the mayor mentioned, among other things, that he had expanded the city's economic development staff from one to three positions.

Another topic of discussion were the punitive duties recently imposed by US President Donald Trump on foreign steel and aluminium and those he threatened to impose on the import of German cars. Hüther, who had just returned from a visit to the USA, reported a split mood in American politics. "This move is also highly controversial among the Republicans."

So there is still a lot to do, but on the other hand there is also a great deal of confidence, moderator Jessica Bloem summarized the lively discussion.

Jazz singer Oxana Voytenko and her band provided the musical accompaniment of the evening.

As always, the participants of the Celle Castle Talk used the get-together in the Caroline Mathilde rooms of the Celle Residence Museum to exchange ideas and experiences in an informal atmosphere.

DMAN and NiedersachsenMetall organise the Celle Castle Talks with the aim to provide decision-makers in Lower Saxony companies with impulses and concrete support for their activities on domestic and international markets.

Photos: Rainer Erhard

A report of this Celle Castle Talk can be found at CelleHeute (in German).