Here’s an on-the-ground report from our Trade team:
Today I took just two meetings in the morning and then spent the rest of the day with my counterpart, Oliver Schrader, the Business Development Manager for Niedersachsen State. Oliver is a very tall and affable man who I immediately took a liking to. He is passionately committed to growing the economy and providing jobs to the citizens of Niedersachsen as much as I am committed to doing the same in Washington State. We are both originally from the states we represent and feel a responsibility to contribute to the communities that have supported us our entire lives.
Niedersachsen, or Lower Saxony as it is often referred to in English text, is the German federal state in which Hannover is located. Niedersachsen is Germany’s second-largest federal state in terms of its area and its fourth biggest population-wise, with some eight million inhabitants. The world’s largest cruise ships are built here, components for the world’s biggest airliner, the A380, are produced here, and Volkswagen, Europe’s leading automaker, has its base here as well.
Niedrsachsen also has a vibrant food processing industry which is the second largest sector in the state, after automotive, employing with nearly 100,000 people. Located in the northern section of Niedersachsen is CFK-Valley Stade, which I will visit on Monday. CFK Valley is home to Germany‘s carbon fibre research and development center as well as it’s composites training development program. Is any of this sounding familiar? Shipbuilding, aerospace, automotive components, food processing and carbon fiber ? The similarties between Niedersachsen and Washington State’s key economic sectors is striking and is one of the reasons that former Governor Gregoire came here in 2012 and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Neidersacshen’s Ministry of Economics, Labor and Transport. The MOU states that the two states will cooperate in the following areas;
- Research, development, and commercialization of products and services
- Joint seeking of grant and other funding to enhance collaborative opportunities
- Bilateral exchanges of business leaders, researchers, and pre- and post graduate students
- Joint marketing and promotion activities to raise the visibility and profile of both parties as global players in the indentified industries.
- Supporting joint licensing of new technologies
When former Governor Gregoire and Minister Bode signed the agreement, they decided to leave the details up to people like me and Oliver. So Oliver and I sat down at a table with a couple of cups of strong German coffee and started to brainstorm on how we could bring this MOU to life and actually drive some concrete initiatives that will embody these principles.
A couple of nights before when I was at the opening ceremonies, I met an engineer, Wolfgang, in line at the buffet. As I was standing next to him I happened to notice he was wearing a camera strap made by a local Seattle company, Black Rapid. I commented on it and asked him if I could take a picture of him wearing it to send to my friends who manage the company. We began to talk and I learned that he was involved in a program called Ideen Expo, or in English, Idea Expo. Ideen Expo is a 9 day expo for kids ages 12 to 18 held every two years here in Hannover. The expo is an industrial technology fair which its purpose is to get kids excited about industrial manufacturing and technology. Last year over 300,000 kids and parents attended from all over northern Germany. Very much like the Messe, the expo is divided into categories; motion, automation, energy, communication, life & the environment, mobility and production. After an initial kick start of funds from the state government, the local companies from Niedersachsen, dominated by Volkswagen, have taken over the financing of the expo . This year they plan to spend €10Million on the expo!! As Wolfgang began to describe how the kids are encouraged to touch, feel and absorb these industrial concepts represented in special areas each sponsored by a Niedersachsen company, he became very animated and said, “You can see the lights going on in their heads and they start to get it. They get excited and then I have them.” All I could think was we need to get our kids excited and thought this might be a good idea for Washington… and America.
So as Oliver and I are sipping our coffees trying to figure out how to bring the MOU to life, I asked him, “Have you heard of Ideen Expo?” “Yes, absolutely. My kids love it.” I asked him, “What do you think about collaborating on something like that?” It didn’t take him 10 minutes to set up a meeting. We walked out to his car and drove to downtown Hannover to meet with Birgit Schilling, the Director of the expo. After about 30 minutes I was so excited about this I told Oliver, let’s focus on this and make it happen.
Oliver and I talked on the way home about how about twenty years or so ago it was a big obstacle for them to get kids to track into manufacturing. German youth started to shun manufacturing having learned over the past century that manufacturing was greasy hands and monotonous routine. But the fact was that German manufacturing was changing radically and that the integration of automation and technology was requiring a whole new breed of kids who were technologically savvy and could handle the new machines. It became clear to the government and business leaders that they had a PR problem on their hands. They needed to convince the kids that manufacturing was “sexy”, cool, and intelligent and a good choice for a career. Ideen Expo was born.
I don’t think it’s any secret we have that exact problem in Washington State and the whole country. Young people do not understand what advanced manufacturing is and do not plan to follow this path. Many do go down it, but it’s more of a default than a choice. And more importantly parents in the US do not want their kids to go into manufacturing. “Go to college, get a good job.” Unfortunately today that often means a pile of debt and a job at Starbucks because there are too many MBAs and English Lit degrees out there chasing too few jobs. All the while good jobs with good career potential go unfilled or are filled with foreign workers which our companies say they need because our own kids don’t’ have the skills. This must change. We must do a better job of telling the story of what modern advanced manufacturing is. We must convince the parents that this path will provide their children a good life. We must make the kids realize this isn’t greasy hands anymore. It’s technology, it’s green, it’s “The Cloud” … dare I say it, it’s sexy! I am on a mission to make manufacturing sexy.
When I make my trip to Stade next Monday, one of the areas I will focus on is the programs they have developed to train workers in composites. What we in Washington need to do is a one two punch… get the kids excited and wanting to get the training then provide the programs they need to get good jobs. Wir sind Niedersachseners!! We are Washingtonians!! I want the world to know those two things mean smart people who make the best products in the world.
Technology is inherently human. I am one of thousands running from meeting to meeting at this fair. I mostly hear conversations in English, the de facto language of international business, but I hear colleagues speaking to each other in German, Chinese, Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, Portuguese and just about every conceivable language on earth. They are all talking about the same thing, the technology on display. But what makes technology so human is that all these people from all the corners of the world are working on the same things; mobility, energy, clean water and the tools that enable us to provide the basic needs of life… and a little more. The approaches are all different, but ultimately all of this is to make our lives better. The Hannover Messe is the market where the best technologies emerge and will disperse across the globe. I am encouraged and humbled at our ability to drive new solutions to the ever changing circumstances we as humans find ourselves in.
So, today I met with several companies that are addressing how we move from place to place. I spent most of the day in the Mobility Technologies pavilion. How we will move around will not be addressed by one technology. Because of the unique aspects of geography and the resources within certain regions, transportation needs will likely be regional solutions. For instance, in Washington State we are blessed with abundant, inexpensive hydro power. The stark reality of regional resource constraints was all too apparent when I lived in Texas. This Pacific Northwest native was shocked every time I got a $200 a month electricity bill. So it’s unlikely electric cars will make economic sense in areas where electricity is expensive and produced with fossil fuels like coal or gas. But for us in Washington and other Western States, electric transportation makes good economic sense. And here at the Messe, there are electric cars galore on display; Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Volvo among other models are on display.
My first meeting of the day was with the Director of Government Affairs for BMW. As many of you know BMW, along with its partner SGL, have established a plant in Moses Lake, Washington to carbonize threads for composite materials used in their new i series electric automobiles. I wanted to meet with the company to learn more about their plans for electric mobility and see if I could glean anything that might help us attract more investment from BMW into our state. It was a productive meeting and we talked about the regional aspect of transportation and how Europe was adopting this technology at a much faster rate than the US. I theorized this might be due to the differences in geography and the range anxiety many in the US have. Unlike Europe, many people in the US live in areas that are spread out over great distances. Europe is dense and cities are close together and well, it’s not like Lubbock Texas where you may drive 40 minutes to work, then 30 minutes to get to the Walmart after work, then another 30 minutes to pick up your kids at soccer practice and then another 30 minutes to get back home. But many locations in the US, the dense, urban areas of the east and the coastal cities of San Francisco and Seattle, do not require driving great distances. She thought that regions like Texas would likely opt for something like compressed natural gas vehicles, which were also on display at the fair. There were also hydrogen cell technology and even solar powered cars. There is a mind blowing array of fuel technologies being tested and developed. It will be a long process to see where each technology is best suited given the constraints and resources of each region of the planet. The meeting concluded with a promise to connect me with their government affairs representatives in DC who will be able to provide better insight as to the direction of their North American strategy, which would include their facility at Moses Lake.
My next meeting was with a Swiss company that has developed car sharing software in “The Cloud.” Car sharing has been very popular in Europe for some time and is starting to take off in Seattle and other cities in the US. In Seattle we first we saw a few Zip cars around, then a lot of them and now we have seen Car2Go come into the market. Car2Go is owned by Daimler Benz and Zip car was recently purchased by Avis. This Swiss company developed an application that allows the users to download an app on their smart phone or tablet that will find the cars wherever they are in a region and enable to driver to reserve the vehicle. It also provides statistics on the car like how much energy is left (if an electric car) or how many miles on it or the vehicle specs. Their customers are the car sharing companies or the companies that make the electronic boxes that track the vehicles or even companies and organizations that manage fleets of vehicles who want to track their cars. But the idea of car sharing is taking root and the cloud is of course playing a role. The efficiency, the savings, the ease makes sense for a lot of young people who do not wish to be burdened with the responsibilities and cost of owning a car. Oh how times have changed since the days when a young man’s identity was reflected in the sleek lines and roar of his muscle car. To the youth of today… who can be bothered! My meeting ended with me agreeing to share information on our electric vehicle initiative, she will send me information on how large organizations who use fleets (like the state of WA) can gain more efficiency with their software to track and manage fleets and we promised to keep in touch and identify opportunities we may come across.
So wherever we are, we will need to get from A to B. How will we do that in the future? I can bet one thing, it won’t be sucking down as much gasoline and it won’t require you to own your car to have mobility when and where you want it. But I am also certain there will still be young men who want it to roar when they hit the pedal… so maybe those electric cars will have to install recorded sounds of a v8!
Time to call it a day. The Messe opens early and I have more meetings.
If I had to describe the Hannover Messe in one word it would have to be HUGE. It is mind boggling the amount of technology on display at this show. Let me give a few facts. The Hannover Messe is the largest industrial trade show in the world. This year’s theme of the show is “Industrial Integration.” There are over 6,000 exhibitors from 60 countries covering a space of nearly 2 square miles. Attendance is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, the largest turnout in nearly a decade.
In fact, it’s like 14 shows in one. The exhibition halls are divided into categories of industrialization; Industrial Automation, Motion Drive & Automation, Energy, Wind, Mobilitech, Digital Factory, ComVac, Industrial Supply, Surface Technology, Industrial Green Tech, Research & Technology, Metropolitan Solutions, Promotions and Robotics. Getting from hall to hall can be daunting as I found out the first day when my first meeting was clear across the Messe grounds. Not having learned the bus system yet (it’s like its own city with bus service, restaurants, stores, shopping, etc.) I decided to walk from Hall 13 where our booth is located to Hall 1. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that it’s about 2 miles and it took me nearly 20 minutes. I made it in time for my meeting, but my feet are killing me just after one day!
The Opening ceremonies were held Sunday night with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin presiding over the night’s events. No event is complete without the politics, so as I got out of the taxi on the way to the event, I was greeted by a mob of protesters there to voice their opposition to President Putin and the current state of human rights in Russia. Making it through the mob and then the event’s security, I grabbed a headset for translation, a Coke and found my seat. The Hannover Stadthale in which the opening ceremonies were held was a 1930s rotunda style building replete with deco reliefs of Teutonic personifications of German industrial greatness.
A capacity crowd of about 2,000 filled the hall and after a 45 minute delay due to President Putin’s late arrival, the show started. It began with a dance interpretation of the 14 categories of the show accompanied by Euro-techno music and a video montage. That was followed by the Hermes Award, the Oscars of the Hannover Messe. This year the award went to Bosch Rexroth Ag for their work in industrial integration. The presenter went on to detail the work Bosch Rexroth had made in real time, machine to machine communication, or M2M, through cloud based solutions that allowed operators to customize production but maintain mass production scale. They call it the “Internet of Everything” All machines talking to all the other machines which in turn talk to the operators who talk to the customers and it’s all real time. If I could say that two themes that keep cropping up at this show one would be energy and the other would be “The Cloud”. The cloud is everywhere at this show. My vision of the factory worker of the future is a young man or woman with a smart phone or tablet and a bluetooth in his or her ear in constant communication with the management and with the machines. The days of greasy handed shop attendants is over…. The shop floor is now a technological landscape with data coursing through the Ethernet and the attendant a conductor of machines and information. And the US better get ready because it’s already here and Germany and others are already leading its way.
OK… time to get my backpack on and get ready for day two…