Located on the river Rhine in the north of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, Mannheim has been home to various influences and innovation as far back as the mid-19th century following the development of its harbour, when chemicals giant BASF was founded and Karl Benz invented the first motor car.
“The city became a centre of freight, which led to industrialisation, innovations and different companies. Mannheim was also at the centre of the German democracy movement and Jewish emancipation, which was a sign of its liberal DNA,” says Dr Peter Kurz, the city's mayor.
Beyond the harbour and industrial development, the medium-sized city of 300,000 inhabitants is a centre of higher education, with the University of Mannheim ranking 33rd globally in the Times Higher Education Rankings 2019 for both social sciences and business and economics.
This strong industrial base, featuring multinational corporations such as German conglomerate Siemens, Switzerland-based automation company ABB and German car-maker Daimler, has long been part of the city's make-up, but the mayor has taken strides to broaden its economic output.
“We actively tried to diversify our industry to become more resilient for the next time the economy weakens. We had a proof of concept in the past 10 years that worked, and it changed the perception of the city, which in the past was limited to a city of industry and production,” says Mr Kurz. Indeed, since he took office in 2007, the number of companies in Mannheim has grown from 6800 to 9000, employing an additional 20,000 people in the process.
“We started more than 15 years ago to foster the creative industries and to develop the atmosphere of the city, and we became a Unesco city of music as a result. We focused on strengthening our urban qualities, which we saw as a strategy to attract new companies,” says Mr Kurz. This approach has borne fruit as Mannheim attracted a record $584.2m of inbound greenfield investment in 2018, according to investment monitor fDi Markets. Most of this is attributable to a $470.71m investment by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, the largest investment made into the city since records began in 2003.
Part of this increase in company numbers in Mannheim can be attributed to the development of a start-up community. “We built an ecosystem of several start-up hubs with specific target groups. For instance, we developed a special centre for female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in the migrant economy, as well as different hubs and incubators for specific sectors,” says Mr Kurz.
He aims to improve Mannheim’s image and profile by committing to meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint set out in 2015 designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. “The basic idea of the SDGs is to have a coherent strategy that combines economic, ecological and social development. We have tried to have one strategy that is coherent to the 17 SDGs,” says Mr Kurz.