Jeremy Rainwater, TKE's CEO for the Americas, outlines the company's sustainability and innovation plans in a conversation with Mayor Stephan Keller and the Düsseldorf delegation. Photo: TKE

Atlanta this week regained a key air link to Germany as Delta Air Lines restarted its flights from Düsseldorf, a milestone marked by a high-level delegation led by the city’s mayor. 

Mayor Stephan Keller’s delegation couldn’t make it on the inaugural, but after stops in Portland and Denver, they visited Atlanta aiming to strengthen the very commercial links that helped persuade Delta to bring back the flight. They returned to Düsseldorf on the second thrice-weekly nonstop Delta flight Thursday.

Along with the mayor, Düsseldorf sent the heads of its airport, tradeshow business (Düsseldorf Messe) economic development team, international affairs office and more. Pauline Kao, the U.S. consul general in Düsseldorf, also joined the group.

The return of the flight, postponed during the pandemic, was welcome news to the business community on both sides of the Atlantic. That’s especially true of TK Elevator, the spinoff from thyssenkrupp that opened new headquarters in Düsseldorf around the same time it put its landmark test tower and regional business support center in metro Atlanta.

“Now I don’t have to go through Heathrow anymore,” said Jeremy Rainwater, CEO for the Americas at TKE, told the delegation in a meeting space on the 25th floor of the tower, where panoramic views of the city spread out on all sides of Cobb’s tallest structure.

“Please don’t,” Lars Redeligx, the CEO of the Düsseldorf Airport, quipped from across the table.

Dr. Keller and the delegation visited the gleaming new facility to hear from TK Elevator executives about their innovation strategy, workforce recruitment and focus on sustainability.

More than just moving people, the company sees itself representing the vanguard of changing modes of urban mobility and helping fight climate change in the building sector — one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The week before the Düsseldorf group touched down, TK Elevator introduced EOX, a new elevator model positioned as “eco-efficient and digitally native.” 

Mr. Rainwater said EOX will offer up to 45 percent energy savings versus the products it’s designed to replace, another example of TKE’s commitment to sustainability. 

“It’s no longer a statement in our annual report. It’s something that we’re living and thinking about every day — how we make an impact every day,” he said, noting that the test tower runs solely on renewable power.

TK Elevator has been an ambassador for Düsseldorf in Atlanta, helping lobby on both sides for the Delta flight by providing information about how the flight would affect its business, the mayor told Global Atlanta in a written interview. 

In their testimonial, they pointed out their appreciation for Düsseldorf as a popular business hub. Before the pandemic, the company – as so many others – had a significant number of flights by employees from Germany (primarily based in the Düsseldorf region) to the U.S.,” the mayor said. “Atlanta was one of their top destinations in the U.S. in 2019. Not having a direct flight meant that employees needed to connect through any number of airports and airlines, which was cumbersome and inefficient for their travel needs as a global company. The same situation applied for a broad number of companies, affecting our business location a lot, so it makes us more than happy to finally have back our nonstop flight connection to Atlanta.”

Düsseldorf Mayor Stephan Keller, center, met with TK Elevator executives at the elevator company’s test tower in Cobb. He led a high-level delegation that was accompanied by Pauline Kao, second from right, consul general of the United States in Düsseldorf. Photo: TKE

In addition to the meeting at TKE, the delegation participated in a ribbon-cutting for the “new” flight at the Atlantic Station offices of the German-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S., or GACC South. 

The celebration highlighted a collaborative effort enlisting many partners, from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the American Chamber of Commerce in Düsseldorf to NRW.Global Business, the investment agency for the federal state of North Rhine Westphalia, which has representation in Atlanta.

Dr. Keller said the community conducted surveys of companies on both sides to quantitatively demonstrate to Delta what they already knew intuitively: that the demand was still there.

The results also spoke for themselves, however, the general hardships that the flight industry and airlines are facing since the pandemic (lack of aircrafts, lack of personnel, higher costs, etc.) didn’t make it easy for us,” he said. 

Neither side seems content to rest on its laurels. Düsseldorf, home to adhesive and consumer brand giant Henkel, supermarket chain Metro and facilities from Mercedes/Daimler (e-Sprinter) and cancer research firm Qiagen — is an industrial powerhouse at the center of a broader region are of nearly 12 million people, 500,000 companies and 60 universities, said Teresa Winkel, the city’s economic development director. 

It’s particularly strong in metals, industrial technology, medical research, ICT, green technology and digital health, said the mayor — all areas ripe for partnership with Atlanta. 

John Woodward, vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said both cities boast strong workforces, the key to winning new projects today. Atlanta has benefited from the confluence of two trends — a southward migration occurring just as companies like TK Elevator are coming to Atlanta for its diverse workforce, he said.

Mayor Keller said Düsseldorf has met potential partners at the Atlanta Tech Village and Georgia Tech and is looking forward to welcoming more Atlanta firms like Reibus, the online metals trading marketplace that already set up a European headquarters there.

“Our city is the perfect location if you want to enter the German and European market, and many international companies have set up their European Headquarters in our city for exactly this reason and operate very successfully,” Dr. Keller said. “We have a number of different projects and offers for these companies to bring them here and help them be successful right from the beginning. This applies also to Atlanta startups, and especially those in the tech scene will find the perfect conditions and a great network and ecosystem.” 

While Düsseldorf itself doesn’t have offices around the U.S., the mayor pointed to the Messe Düsseldorf subsidiary in Chicago as a gateway for its North American outreach. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...