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tradition and ambition

Düsseldorf mayor Thomas Geisel tells Wendy Atkins how the city has built on its history of manufacturing and appetite for innovation to stay at the forefront of industrial developments.

Thomas Geisel, Düsseldorf’s charismatic mayor, has earned a reputation for a high-energy approach to his role since his election in June 2014.

“Our city has a very successful track record when it comes to attracting FDI,” he says. “We host the largest Japanese community in continental Europe. Added to this, we’ve been extremely successful in attracting Chinese companies in recent years. In fact, we have 480 German or European headquarters of Chinese companies and we’re home to a Chinese community of 4000.” 

At the cutting edge

Mr Geisel believes Düsseldorf’s success is driven by its industrial heritage. “The city has been at the cutting edge of industrial development ever since the industrial revolution. Today, we play host to an extremely diverse range of industries,” he says.

“We have a sizeable number of blue-collar manufacturing jobs. For example, the Mercedes Sprinter is produced here and secures 6500 jobs. We have Henkel, which has been extremely successful with a major takeover in the US worth a couple of billion [dollars]. And we are still the second most important location for finance in Germany.

“In addition, we have established an ICT cluster, which continues to attract businesses, and we are the fashion and advertising capital of Germany. Plus, we have all the high-end consulting and law firms here. This diversity makes us more robust and stable than other cities, but we’re still innovative and dynamic. We’ve created 6000 extra jobs locally each year for the past 10 years.” 

The ability to transform and take advantage of change is at the heart of the city’s success, according to Mr Geisel. “In the Ruhr area, they talk about strukturwandel – structural change that involves transforming industry; in places where they’ve had a hard time managing this change, they constantly talk about strukturwandel. Düsseldorf has always managed this change,” he says.

“We never talk about it – we simply ensure we’re always at the cutting edge of nearly every phase of industrial development. There are very few places like Düsseldorf, where you have the sense that moving forward and being innovative is an integral part of the city’s DNA.” 

Making a start

The mayor has been pursuing an initiative to attract and support start-ups since he took office. “We have attracted 80 to 90 start-ups in the past two years,“ he says. “We have a lot of well-established major companies that are willing to work with start-ups because the corporates need their input. Other cities have an active start-up scene, but they don’t have the same robust industrial infrastructure as we have here in Düsseldorf.” 

The city is also set to take centre stage for several sporting events throughout 2017. “We’re organising the Grand Départ du Tour de France in the summer, which will broadcast pictures of the city to an audience of 300 million worldwide,” says Mr Geisel. “We’re also hosting the World Table Tennis Championship and a European Championship triathlon this year.” 

In the current populist political climate, Mr Geisel is keen to highlight the city’s outward-looking credentials. “We’re building on our heritage as a melting pot. More than 20% of our inhabitants do not have a German passport and 40% have an immigrant background. This part of Germany has always been open-minded, liberal and hospitable with a culture that is welcoming, making it attractive to foreign companies looking for the best place to locate in continental Europe.”

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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