Georgia and Bavaria, two influential southern states an ocean apart, have an array of business and cultural ties binding them together, but both sides still see a personal touch as vital to furthering their relationship.
State Minister Florian Herrmann, a cabinet member for the German state, stopped into Atlanta in mid-June to meet with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, new Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and hear from German companies operating here during a roundtable at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. It was the only city outside Washington Mr. Hermann carved into his three-day U.S. tour.
Dr. Herrmann is head of the Bavarian Staatskanzlei, or State Chancellery, meaning he’s responsible for carrying out the objectives of Minister President Dr. Markus Soeder, who was elected last year. His portfolio includes federal, European and international affairs, as well as media policy.
Georgia and Bavaria share membership in a global alliance of states called the Regional Leaders, which also includes partners in Brazil, South Africa, China, Austria and Canada. At biennial conferences, they share best practices on international themes like food security or economic development. They also implement multilateral projects like a common platform for education and research in aerospace. Bavaria and Georgia have used membership in the group to spur on their already strong state-to-state ties.
“This partnership and these relations between Bavaria and Georgia are very productive, very good, but from time to time it’s necessary simply to show up, to visit each other, and to talk about the future,” Dr. Herrmann told Global Atlanta during an interview at the chamber. “I think it’s always better to meet and talk and get a personal impression rather than just reading files.”
The corporate ties linking the locales are particularly strong, with some Bavarian household names making a splash in Georgia.
Athletic apparel and footwear maker Adidas opened its so-called “speedfactory,” a highly automated shoe production facility operated by Oechsler (another Ansbach, Bavaria-based manufacturer focused on injection molding) in 2017 in Acworth.
BMW, meanwhile, has a massive plant just across the border in Spartanburg, S.C., that is served by many Georgia-based automotive suppliers, including Bavarian-based Geiger Automotive and Linde + Wiemann, to name a few. BMW also is set to open a maintenance training center near the Atlanta airport July 25. Other lesser-known Bavarian companies like Kraiburg TPE and Sandler AG have made significant investments in the state.
Activity flows in the opposite direction, too: OneTrust, an Atlanta-based privacy compliance software firm that just reached unicorn status, has an office in Munich, the Bavarian capital, which also happens to house Georgia’s European investment recruitment office. Nuremberg and Atlanta have a sister city relationship that just marked 20 years.
During his meeting with local German subsidiaries, Dr. Herrmann said he got the impression that for the most part, business was good.
That said, some companies expressed concerns over trade tensions, given President Trump’s penchant for challenging the U.S. trade deficit with Germany and his looming threat of automotive tariffs based on national security.
These “protectionist notions” inject uncertainty into a trans-Atlantic relationship that is otherwise built on mutual prosperity and “shared values” like democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights, Dr. Herrmann told Global Atlanta.
Danke für den offenen Austausch bei der Handelskammer von Atlanta: Das Engagement von bay und deutschen Unternehmen vor Ort ist sehr wertvoll und wird sehr geschätzt. Protektionismus und Abschottung schadet am Ende allen – das war hier einhellige Meinung. pic.twitter.com/5GzZhA5HvU
— Florian Herrmann (@fwhfreising) June 18, 2019
“We don’t know how that will end, but for us that’s a worry, because we are very much pro free-trade,” he said, noting that he would like to see a resumption in negotiations on an EU-U.S. free-trade agreement.
Talks on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, launched under former President Obama, have stalled, and Mr. Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently agreed to a fragile tariff truce on auto tariffs so both sides work to clarify their negotiating mandate for talks. Mr. Juncker was succeeded this week by the first woman elected as commission president, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
Whatever happens at the national level, Dr. Herrmann said there is ample room for the states to work together.
After meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp, Dr. Herrmann saw some convergence in the way the states aim to even out economic opportunity. Both Georgia and Bavaria are dominated by their capitals, Atlanta and Munich, fueling concerns that rural areas are being left behind. Investments in infrastructure, workforce development and education are fertile ground for future discussions.
Indeed, during the 2014 Regional Leaders Summit on sustainable development held in Atlanta, the Bavarian declaration noted a commitment to “safeguarding equivalent living and working conditions in cities and rural areas, facing the demographic changes and cultural challenge” and more.
Dr. Herrmann hopes to hold his next talks with Mr. Kemp in Munich, a city visited previously by a Georgia trade mission led by then-Gov. Nathan Deal.
On the industry front, Dr. Herrmann emphasized a shared focus on the aerospace sector underpinned by an exchange between Georgia Tech and the Technical University of Munich. TUM in July 2018 launched a department of aerospace, aeronautics and geodesy that will partner with companies on research in the subject.
“It’s not because Bavaria is going to fly to the moon tomorrow. That’s not our first priority — but it’s because we want to better understand our planet Earth,” Dr. Herrmann said, noting the advances in commercial space flight and the use of satellites for purposes like monitoring agriculture and the effects of climate change. Coastal Georgia, meanwhile, is aiming to land the state’s first commercial spaceport.
The TUM department will eventually feature more than 50 chaired professorships. During his visit, Dr. Herrmann met with professors at the Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering to share more about the development and foster collaboration.
The Regional Leaders forum this year will launch a virtual study course on aeronautics and space that can be accessed online by students from participating states.
The 2020 forum in Linz, Austria, will focus on an industry near and dear to Atlanta’s heart: smart cities.
See a full video (in German) summarizing the trip below: