Germany has been touted as a country that ‘got coronavirus right’. In Düsseldorf, the state capital of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), mayor Thomas Geisel is now concentrating on reigniting opportunities in the city.

Düsseldorf went into partial lockdown in mid-March. “After four weeks, we were able to loosen the restrictions, step by step, and now we are back to somewhat normal life,” says Mr Geisel. 

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He reports that Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown hit all parts of the economy hard, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the most vulnerable to disruption. “For me, it was of utmost importance to help those who needed immediate assistance. The German government set up funds to support the economy, but it takes time to organise the application and fund delivery system for those companies in need,” he says.

“Many Düsseldorf companies could not wait that long. Therefore, I set up an extra fund that provided €500,000 in emergency aid. This helped many SMEs to survive the first weeks until further support became available.”

Don’t waste a crisis

Mr Geisel says every crisis generates opportunities for change and innovation. “I see a strong potential for the use of modern technologies in daily working life,” he says. “Many meetings are now held online, fairs and conferences take place virtually, and monetary services like online and contactless payment methods have quickly gained acceptance. These changes present opportunities, which we will grasp and develop into a better and more crisis-proof future.”

Düsseldorf’s growing start-up scene includes about 400 firms. Its annual ‘Start-up Week’ has been rescheduled to September with a hybrid live and online format. 

“I expect that the technology-orientated start-up scene, in particular, will easily adapt to new forms of exchange like online conferences, virtual meetings or video pitch events,” the mayor says. “An example of one of these reorganised events is the A-Summit in July, where more than 30 accelerator programmes from NRW were brought together online over three days by our local DigiHub to match corporates with start-ups, get information about financing or take their business model to the next level.”

His current focus is both on enticing new companies to invest and encouraging firms already located in the city to retain staff and grow. “Of course, due to the lockdown and travel restrictions, investment numbers have decreased, but they have not stopped entirely. We’re still seeing investment, such as ThyssenKrupp Elevators, which decided to move its offices and 400 staff to Düsseldorf to work in a better and more international business environment.”

National measures

Mr Geisel says some moves by the national government are also contributing to Düsseldorf’s recovery: “VAT has been reduced from 19% to 16% for general goods and from 7% to 5% for consumables. This will have a further impact on consumer behaviour and support the economy. 

“It was also a very important decision for our national government to give cities and communities the opportunity to react to their specific Covid-19 situation individually. Although there are some nationwide rules, we can decide how to implement specific measures in our city. This ensures that restrictions are introduced where necessary and freedom is retained where possible,” he adds.

This article first appeared in the August - September edition of fDi Magazine. View a digital edition of the magazine here.