Sunday, February 20, 2011

German trip targets food producers

By STEVE SNYDER Staff Writer
Updated: 02/18/2011 05:48:32 PM ES

Charles Blankenship planted some seeds on his latest trip to Germany that he hopes will yield jobs for Lebanon County.

"We were successful," Blankenship said of his eight-day mission to two of the 16 German states.

Blankenship, president of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corp., was accompanied by LVEDC board member Tom Haag, a retired Bayer executive and owner of Marketechs, a marketing company.

The trip, which ended Feb. 5, was funded in part by a Regional Initiative Marketing Grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development's Office of International Business Development. The office's representative in Germany, Stefan Peikert, set up meetings for Blankenship and Haag with their German counterparts.

"Our primary reason (for the trip) was to focus on food production suppliers and to try to create an alliance with similar organizations like food industry associations," Blankenship said.

Another goal of the trip to the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony was to encourage German business representatives to visit Lebanon County, which has a solid connection to Germany through businesses like Bayer, Schott Pharmaceutical and rubber-products producer Regupol America, which recently announced it was purchasing an additional 10 acres in an LVEDC-managed business park, Hawk Acres.

Although Germany has weathered the international recession better than most, if not all, European nations, the German population is stagnant.

"The food industry ... has to have an expanding market," Blankenship said. "The U.S. has a growing population, and that makes it attractive to German companies. We have labor-force growth."

Blankenship found a partner in the Borken Department of Business Development. Borken, similar to Lebanon, once had a steel- and iron-producing economy.

"Their strategy was to diversify, like ours was," he said. "They're struggling because of no increase in their labor force. We are more oriented to growth."

Blankenship reached an agreement and partnership with three German food associations.

"They will work with us to survey German food suppliers about making trips here," he said.

Four years ago, Blankenship and Haag made their first trip to Germany. Two more trips followed, but none was taken last year due to the global recession.

"I think we've re-established our brand for German businesses," Blankenship said. "We had lost some momentum. The test will be whether we can get companies to visit us."

To that end, Blankenship is working on a three-day trip itinerary for German representatives to come to Lebanon County later this year. He will let the Germans choose the dates.

"Germany has businesses looking for expansion, particularly in the food industry," Blankenship said. "We're in the center of one of the largest food-production areas in the U.S."; 272-5611, ext. 152

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