Top Stories November 21, 2019

Why the US city of Charlotte becomes a headquarters of the German economy

Charlotte. It's a house like so many in this upscale residential area of ​​Charlotte. It is one and a half stories high, built of bright natural stones, the blue front door is decorated with a wreath of autumnal flowers. And yet every guest on this Monday night knows that he is right and welcome here. In the flower pots to the right and left of the entrance stairs are a German and an American flag.

It is the home of Klaus Becker and his wife Concha. He has been the honorary consul of Germany in Charlotte for seven years . An office that he fills with physical strength and warmth of heart. Just as he once made his money trading in steel, so the 66-year-old looks after the transatlantic relationship with similar energy . He has been living 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 back in his element. He has invited to the reception in his own home, in honor of the Minister of Economics of Rhineland-Palatinate, Volker Wissing, who is visiting with a business delegation. With wide laughter, open arms and such a loose-fitting blue double-breasted suit with gray pinstripes and red handkerchief, he greets his guests: "A warm welcome to my home!"

More than 50 of them pass his German and American flags. They populate 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 shops, shops, shops - and of course the German-born US President Donald Trump.

Charlotte, this 850,000-inhabitant city, whose name many of those present did not know until recently, is one of the fastest-growing business locations in the US . The list of German companies that have an office here is long, exactly. It contains the who's who of the German economy. So are half the DAX and MDAX represented - with Bayer , BASF , German post office, railway and Lufthansa , Daimler , Hochtief , Lanxess , Siemens , Thyssen-Krupp . 90 miles away, in Spartanburg, has also the carmaker BMWhis 11,000-employee plant for the X models. In addition there are significant, unlisted companies such as Bosch , Schaeffler and ZF as well as many smaller companies.

The business location of Charlotte is a refreshing piece of desired normality in a generally crazy period of German-American relations. Punitive tariffs and a trade war dominate the political debates between the two countries. Again and again, the verbal failures of the US President on the news service Twitter cause upset not only in diplomatic circles. These are not really good conditions for business and investment.

The noise is not felt in the city of Charlotte. Here is tradition, which is also German. Founded in 1867, the city and the surrounding region, County Mecklenburg, are named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the German wife of the English King George III. And the city and region owe their rise primarily to German companies and managers. And there are more and more.

According to the Handelsblatt, several other German companies from the food industry, mechanical engineering and the automotive industry are ready. It only leaves the uncertain US economic policy waiting for better times. Also within the US lures the city. For example, the packaging specialist Pester from Wolfertschwenden in the Allgäu moves its US branch from New Jersey to Charlotte.

What makes the "Queen City" - as it is also called - so appealing, especially for German entrepreneurs and top managers?

It is the business friendly climate. The corporate tax rate is only 2.5 percent, which is the lowest rate of all US states with corporation tax. The working-age population is well educated. Almost half have a bachelor or higher degree.

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 on the west coast. There are daily direct connections to Frankfurt and Munich.

On location in Charlotte

213 German companies

102 people

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

The location between the expensive northeast coast with New York, Boston and Washington DC and the humid southeast with Miami is so attractive that it survives even structural crises. The textile machinery manufacturer Trützschler from Mönchengladbach, for example, 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. For 30 years, Trützschler prospered accordingly with the industry. However, following the accession of China to the WTO in 2001, the textile industry in the southeastern United States collapsed, with some exceptions. Trützschler was also worried.

The family business, however, held on to the site in North Carolina. New business fields were searched and found. Today, "American Trützschler" manufactures sets and control cabinets and is heavily involved in service. "It would have been the simplest solution to close the plant in the mid-2000s. However, the family and the management have decided to stay. Our staff here are very well trained and loyal. We did not want to give them up 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 und Resins". Innovations such as the reflective roof coating "Instant Set" and the binder Acrodur for lightweight components made of natural, glass and synthetic fibers were created here. The location with around 300 employees will therefore be further expanded. "Charlotte excels in our business because of its proximity to industry and our sales markets," explains Denise Hartmann, Managing Director of the division. Also Charlotte is important "in the acquisition of new talent."

The potential of well-educated employees is the main reason for many companies to settle in Charlotte because of their geographical location. And in the field of education, the city has much to offer. It is no longer just the state and private universities that provide the region with graduates.

With the new technical institute of the Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) newly set up this year new standards are set. It is based on the German dual training system, works very closely with the established companies and offers its approximately 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-Gesellschaft has recently entered into an alliance with the universities and the Ministry of Economic Affairs of South Carolina. Together, applications for digital transformation will be developed.

"Especially smaller and medium-sized companies, such as those we find in North and South Carolina and also in many rural regions in Germany, will benefit," explains Dieter Rombach, co-initiator of the new alliance and once founder and long-time director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Development (IESE) in Kaiserslautern. The focus is on cybersecurity, healthcare and Industry 4.0.

New self-confidence

And it's not just the Germans who make Charlotte flourish. The city, once dominated by cultivation and later by the processing of cotton and wood, today has a broadly diversified economy. Charlotte is the second largest financial center in the US after New York.

The Bank of America has its headquarters here and Wells Fargo since the takeover of the once founded here Bank Wachovia in 2008 its second seat. Last year, the city leaders also managed to lure the technology company Honeywell from New Jersey to Charlotte. The top 100 company now has its new 23-storey headquarters for 750 employees. On the board with Torsten Pilz - how could it be otherwise - a German.

With economic development, the self-confidence of the inhabitants has grown. Today, the city calls itself the center of the "New South" and makes the "Levine Museum of the New South." However, the rapid development of recent years also shows the first negative side effects.

The city of Charlotte, known as "Uptown" due to its elevated position, is characterized by skyscrapers. There are hardly any parks here. Only a historic cemetery offers green space in the larger style. A citizens' petition has therefore now argued for tax increases, so that money is invested in parks and art.

In Charlotte, there is no German Town, so a kind of German enclave as an industrial or residential area. Most Germans like Klaus Becker live in the upscale residential areas around Charlotte. But there is a German school, a German church, several German clubs and associations such as the Alemannia Society.

There is also - how could it be otherwise - with the "Olde Mecklenburg Brewery" a brewery that produces pils, old and wheat beer. A meeting point is the Restaurant Waldruh, run by the German family Maier. There are Schnitzel, Black Forest cake and twelve different draft beers and 27 other bottled beers.

And it's not just private life that is often done pretty German. This is also possible in business. Large parts of the infrastructure enable an existence without Dictionary. For example, the tax consulting and auditing firm Rödl & Partner from Nuremberg has been present for 17 years. In the meantime, the office of mid-sized consulting in Charlotte has a staff of 28 employees.

Eight employees speak German. "We are a medium-sized company with 4,900 employees worldwide, know the German and American tax system and speak German," says Oliver Hecking, Partner of Rödl & Partner in Charlotte. And also with the competition KPMG popular with corporations Kristin Zettlemoyer is a German partner contact person.

"In Charlotte you can no longer complain in German on the street, at least not on the assumption that nobody understands you," says Bernd Losskarn and laughs. "German is now widespread here." The logistics entrepreneur and native of Frankfurt, who this evening at Klaus Becker wearing a shirt made of strong white fabric with brown staghorn buttons and green oak leaves embroidery came 25 years ago from California to Charlotte. He appreciates the location because of its favorable location. Meanwhile, his company CVI has 80 employees. And so he states with a glass of Rhineland-Palatinate wine in his hand: "I live and work here immensely."

And Klaus Becker? It not only ensures that business is done. With his foundation he always brings top-class speakers to Charlotte. In 2018, CDU chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, in 2017 the chairman of the "Atlantic Bridge" Friedrich Merz and in 2015 the then Minister of Economic Affairs Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg . Becker also organizes a kind of art biennale every three years. And Becker has, just as it is customary in "his" city Charlotte, a weakness for sport.

So he managed to get both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for friendly matches at the Bank of America Stadium. Two years ago, Bayern came and played against Inter Milan, the Black and Yellow won in 2018 against Liverpool.

"Klaus Becker is an enthusiastic person who can easily inspire others," says Volker Wissing, the FDP Economic Minister on a delegation trip. And Dieter Rombach from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, who lived for many years in the USA and researched at NASA, praises: "Klaus Becker enjoys great respect and great trust - on both German and American sides."

In short: The man is a gifted networker and seller, almost a persuasion artist. One who has known him for a long time even calls him a "hyperactive social entrepreneur". The manager Bernhard Deutsch gets an impression of his kind on this Monday evening. He once came to Charlotte with Siemens. He now works in a senior position for the American technology corporation Corning, which has just built its new headquarters for the fiber optics division in Charlotte.

The native Trier is a guest at the reception of Becker. The two get to know each other personally for the first time. When saying goodbye Becker Deutsch almost states that he would like to have him with him at his next entrepreneur's lunch. He speaks vehemently to the two-meter man who towers over his head: "You must come!" Deutsch hesitates, does not know if he finds the time. Becker hugs him and says, "I think you have already agreed. I'm looking forward to seeing you! "


Show Other Stories