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The German city of Heidelberg, on the outskirts of Frankfurt, has thrived in recent years due to its knowledge economy, particularly in scientific fields. Its mayor, Eckart Würzner, tells Courtney Fingar about the role FDI plays in this development.

Q: How important is FDI to Heidelberg? Is it a key part of what you’re trying to achieve economically?

A: It is the second most important area where we are very active. The first point is education and knowledge: for more than 11 years we have been driving the city strongly in this direction, to be the city of knowledge, the city of education, and the city of innovation. 

By doing this we have opened some interesting possibilities. In Heidelberg, we have one of the largest medical clinics in Germany with more than 1 million patients [Heidelberg University Hospital], we have national and international [medical research] organisations such as the German Cancer Research Centre, the National Centre for Tumour Diseases, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Heidelberg University is well known [for producing a large number of Nobel prizewinners].

We, as a city, try to expand these activities and create possibilities for scientists to come to Heidelberg and also to create a community that is based on scientific research. That is the reason why we have nearly doubled [expenditure on education per household]. This year we [won the award for being] the city with the best educational system in Germany, with the highest number of people achieving Masters degrees and the lowest number of schoolchildren who are failing.

We noticed we are becoming increasingly well known as a knowledge city – and that is the reason why we have seen tremendous development during the past few years. We are now at the point of being one of the most fastest growing cities in Germany.

Q: Where is that growth coming from? Is it organic or it is from migration?

A: A lot of this is migration of highly skilled employees to those places where they want to stay. It is very important to us that we are an international, open-minded city. For example, in the past three-and-a-half years we accepted about 80,000 refugees in Heidelberg. I think the US accepted about 20,000 refugees.

Q: How has it gone in terms of absorbing a high number of people in a smaller city?

A: The refugees came into Heidelberg, we welcomed them and then [most of them] moved on to other places. But we were [a main entrance and transit point for them] in Germany. It was an important moment because it started a huge discussion about citizens, and about the positive and negative sides [of immigration]. 

In general, the growth is coming from well-educated people who are looking for good places to live. Frankfurt airport is our home airport, it is about an hour away by taxi. It is quicker from Heidelberg to Frankfurt than from downtown New York to JFK airport, and this plays a tremendous role [in attracting people].

Q: Do you see any major impacts, positive or negative, from Brexit? Is it an opportunity for you to attract some companies from the UK, for example?

A: We are not focusing on Brexit. However, we have noticed, especially in Frankfurt, a tremendous development in these areas because of the Brexit situation. Heidelberg is in the [wider area surrounding Frankfurt]. So, yes there is a modification, but not a big one.

Q: Being a smaller city, is it more difficult to get noticed internationally?

A: I think Heidelberg is well known on an international level. We always work internationally – that is our focus, we are not working on just a national or European basis. It is very important to be internationally oriented, so this is how we are working.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
fDi Magazine

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