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Lord mayor of Dortmund Ullrich Sierau tells Sebastian Shehadi about the city’s growing tourism industry and strategic location.

Q: What makes Dortmund interesting to foreign investors?

A: Dortmund has been gaining overnight stays for years. We have crossed the million mark and soon we will reach two million per year. The biggest growth rates are here with foreign visitors. This is by no means just because Borussia Dortmund has so many international fans and they visit our stadium, even though this is certainly an absolute must for every football fan in Europe. 

We are the main centre for the Westphalian economic area, the third largest manufacturing region in Germany with many world market leaders. We are also the gateway to the Rhine-Ruhr region, the third largest conurbation in Europe. More and more investors are recognising this function as a regional hub for trade, science and technology. 

This role is not new; it has been assigned to Dortmund historically since the Middle Ages. Even then, Dortmund belonged to the largest trade association in Europe, the Hanseatic League. Our strength has always been the creation of networks, pragmatism and openness.

Q: In which sectors would you like to see more foreign investment?

A: In addition to our role as a hub for trade and logistics, we have above all the function of a digital and technological regional centre. Biotechnology, IT, sensor technology, logistics technology, production technology and energy technology are the first sectors to mention. 

But there are other things that count for me. After the structural change in the coal and steel industry caused large companies to break away, we have succeeded in building a centipede from many small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs]. We have become the most successful start-up centre in the region. When I talk about team play, openness and networking, it is reflected here in concrete terms. We are addressing not only the big companies, but also international SMEs and start-ups.

But there is a decisive difference between Dortmund and all the other major German cities. The focus of our companies is on business-to-business. For example, a very large German internet company sells its shoes from Berlin. But the systems for web shops and payment are programmed in Dortmund. We have many examples like this. Investors who want to do business with the German economy on a sustainable and long-term basis have a top address here. We come from the tradition of a working-class city.

Q: Is Dortmund benefiting or losing from Brexit at the moment?

A: I don’t have the impression that even in Brussels or London anyone can assess everywhere that Brexit will have an effect. Therefore, first we have to realise that everybody is losing because of Brexit. Our companies have prepared themselves intensively for a hard Brexit, but nobody knows now what the new rules of the game will be for customs, logistics, goods, data, technology and rights.

I fear it will take three or four years before we see a clear set of rules and have a price tag for them. Irrespective of that, it will undoubtedly harm our universities and businesses on both sides, because there will inevitably be less co-operation. In contrast, we are trying to take an active approach with our partner city, Leeds. Sometimes I get the impression that the more dysfunctional the national levels in Europe become, the more pragmatic and rational the local level becomes.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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