Mayor, group contend fair was worth tripWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
HANNOVER, GERMANY — Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s second day at one of the world’s largest industrial trade fairs featured another full slate of meetings, including two with foreign-based companies that already have a presence in Northwest Ohio.
While at the Hannover Messe, the group also toured an exhibit called Metropolitan Solutions, showcasing innovative “green” solutions for sustainability and efficiency for urban planning and development, such as electric cars, solar and wind-powered motorized bike racks, LED lighting, self-sufficient power grids, lighweight trams and more.
“Today was more saying hello to some international companies that already have a presence, reaffirming that presence and taking in cutting edge technologies to bring back to colleagues in the city,” said Paul Syring, deputy mayor for external affairs and economic development.
On April 12, Bell met with KUKA, a Germany-based company that makes the robotic arms used Toledo’s Jeep assembly plant, and Argo-Hytos, a Switzerland-based wholesale industrial machinery company that has a facility in Bowling Green. KUKA employees about 250 people in the Toledo area; Argo-Hytos employs about 20.
Wilfried Eberhardt, KUKA executive vice president of marketing and associations, talked to the group, demonstrated some of the company’s developing technology and then presented the mayor with an honorary award. Eberhardt said he has been to Toledo several times because of the Jeep plant. He will be in Detroit next week and said he would visit Toledo if he has time.
“I think they really connected,” said City Finance Director Patrick McLean. “He was very, I want to say touched the mayor had taken the time to come and see his exhibit. You saw his enthusiasm sharing what they have done.
“We’d love to have them not only stay but expand,” McLean said of KUKA. “It’s very important to make that human connection and I’m sure there’s going to be follow-up meetings as a result of that meeting.”
McLean said the meetings illustrated the importance of maintaining good relations with current companies as well as looking for new companies.
“It’s all well and good we go out looking for new jobs, but we’ve got to keep the ones we’ve got there too,” McLean said.
Like on April 11, the group also met with several other foreign companies.
“We had a couple others I think could bear some fruit over time, some that were definitely interested in the Toledo Midwest area sometime in the future,” McLean said.
One of the meetings in particular stuck out to the mayor in terms of the importance of a face-to-face sales pitch for Toledo.
“There was one gentleman, when we first started the conversation, who said, ‘I’m not interested in investing in Ohio.’ He didn’t say Toledo, he said Ohio. He cut us off right when we started,” Bell said. “Then after we were able to show him the map and some of the things going on in the area, he actually sat down and had a conversation with us for 45 minutes and said,’ You know this is pretty interesting; maybe there is something we can do.’
“That’s part of marketing. It’s like a vacuum cleaner or shoe salesman. When you go to leave, he puts his foot in the door and says, ‘Wait a second, hold up, there might be another option now,’ and by the time it’s all over at least you’re thinking about buying a new pair of shoes, where you weren’t thinking about it before.”
Bell said he felt the group utilized well the two days they had at the fair.
“It went as well as it could have based on everything we were trying to do,” Bell said. “There are companies here spending anywhere from $10,000 to half a million dollars just to have an spot to sit in this location and hope that people will come through and make the contacts the same way we were trying to make them. So our investment was very minimal and we were able to be there and talk to people and move around. While I was handling the regular meetings, Paul [McLean] and Patrick [Syring] were making cold contacts, so I think it was a pretty good utilization of time.”
McLean said pursing direct foreign investment is critical in today’s world market.
“Capital knows fewer and fewer boundaries these days,” McLean said. “There’s dollars available, euros available, in different places now than there were 20-25 years ago and if we’re not looking for investors who have those dollars to spend then we’re missing the boat and that ultimate translates into fewer jobs for Toledoans.
“By doing this kind of strategy we’re certainly not excluding looking for investment from other U.S. firms,” McLean added. “Without question that’s also an important part of the strategy. But you don’t want to take the foreign investment off the table if that’s where capital exists right now. It’s shortsighted.”
There are about 155 foreign-owned companies in Northwest Ohio, providing 22,000 jobs, said D. Paul Zito, Regional Growth Partnership’s vice president of international development.
“And that doesn’t count the retailers. That’s only manufacturing, technology and services,” Zito said. “Retailers like ALDI, Circle K is Canadian, Lens Crafters is Italian — if you add all those it’s even more important.”
Zito has attended the Hannover Messe for the past 15 years.
Most American companies would be aware of Northwest Ohio and have the resources to figure out if it would be a good fit, whereas foreign companies may not, Syring said.
“Domestic businesses in my opinion have almost all if not all the information they need to make a decision on whether to expand and where to expand in the U.S. It’s just part of existing in a domestic economy,” Syring said. “Foreign businesses such as the ones were talking to here may not have that knowledge.”
Bell, McLean and Syring, who were visiting the fair for the first time, said they came away convinced Toledo needed to have a presence at the fair.
“We need to be here because Toledo has tremendous potential, but without letting people know Toledo exists, we will not reach that potential,” McLean said.
Syring said he wished every city director, county commissioner, city councilmember and citizen could have had the chance to attend.
“I would recommend the city at a minimum, if not every year then every other year, send one or two folks to attend and give it a good run going forward,” Syring said.