The opening remarks were made by Andreas L.J. Povel, the General Manager of AmCham Germany, and by Robert W. Huber, the Chairman of the International Business Committee of the Karlsruhe Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Attendees then heard from businessmen and women from successful mid-size companies, such as Marcus Söhngen (Managing Director of Coroplast), Elfi Klumpp (Head of Business Development for the U.S. and Asia at Festo Didactic), and Martin Friz (Managing Director of WEIMA Maschinenbau), who held panel discussions, giving helpful insights into their business decisions, experiences and "lessons learned" when doing business in the United States.
In addition to the three firms mentioned above, more than 300 companies from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have set up shop in the metropolitan Charlotte, NC area. The reasons for their move were discussed openly and honestly (including the fact that the US does not always live up to its reputation as the "land of unlimited opportunities"). In a talk on logistics right before the lunch break, the logistics and U.S. experts from Kühne & Nagel, Ralf Többe Regional Manager Southwest) and Silke Grafe (head of Tradelane Management Transatlantik) discussed their practical experience with transportation and customs requirements for international supply chains to and from the United States.
A delegation of U.S. experts, including Jennifer Leary from Clifton Larson Allen, our U.S.-based Nexia International partner firm; Reinhard von Hennigs, the founder of the German law firm BridgehouseLaw, which has had a Charlotte office for the past 20 years; Jens Christophers from the taskforce Management on Demand AG, which focuses on interim management and also has an office in Charlotte; and U.S. conveyor expert Patric S. Zimmer from Development Advisors and Douglas A. Mitchell from Wells Fargo Insurance; along with business development specialists from SelectUSA, the business development arm of the U.S Government, Richard Minor from the North Carolina Commerce Department and Sven F. Gerzer, the German representative of the Charlotte Chamber who is responsible for Europe, discussed the criteria for choosing the right location in the United States and the possibilities of obtaining government subsidies – particularly for training and job creation. These discussions were followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience and interviews with banking experts by the longstanding manager of the New York Branch of Commerzbank, Henning von Gersdorff. Simultaneous interpretation of the entire event was provided.
Christina Metzger, a consultant on foreign trade and energy from the Karlsruhe Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and Elfi Klumpp, from Festo Didactic, were particularly popular with attendees who had questions about training systems. These experts' institutions offer a joint program with Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, which is the first location in U.S. history to offer the dual training system under German standards, allowing graduates to receive both an American and a German diploma when they complete their training. Panel members described the ways in which German and American cultures are alike and how they are different, a key point for day-to-day cooperation and a successful international business. The driving force behind these discussions was Andreas Bittner, the Managing Director and found of the Institute for Intercultural Management.
Additional sessions included the Global Expansion Workshop and Tax and Legal Workshops on topics such as "Caution: Hot Coffee - How to Successfully Manage (Product) Liability in the US," "Your Tax Toolbox when Expanding into the US" and "Let’s Go West - How to Successfully Implement a Corporate and Visa Strategy." Speakers from the United States included Reinhard von Hennigs of BridgehouseLaw and Jennifer Leary, John C. Berens and Matthew J. Barnette of Clifton Larson Allen, while Germany was represented by tax advisor Henning-Günther Wind, LL.M., and attorney and tax advisor Sten Günsel, both of whom are partners at Ebner Stolz.
The German-American Mittelstand Forum ended with an engaging presentation of locker room wisdom and disarmingly honest statements by motivational speaker and legendary soccer coach Hans-Jürgen Sundermann "the Wonderman." The lively discussion with the audience showed how soccer stories capture everyone's attention. Participants, all of whom were impressed with the event, ended the day with networking and valuable discussions at the Christmas booth and a VIP Tour of the Mercedes-Benz Arena. The forum was moderated by seasoned US-based business reporter Katja Ridderbusch.
The next German-American Mittelstand Forum will be held on December 6, 2016 in Stuttgart.