Three delegates from Clark County visited Germany recently to discuss future investment opportunities with the nation that is trying to expand its agricultural interest in America.
Chamber of Greater Springfield Vice-President of Economic Development Horton Hobbs, Global Impact Stem Academy Director Josh Jennings and Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt took the trip May 13 through May 17.
Wilt reflected on the journey at the regular Clark County Commission meeting last week.
“Over a five day period, we traveled from Dusseldorf to Berlin with stops in between at Bielefeld, Osnabruck and Quackenbruck,” she said. “We visited a university, a food processing incubator, the headquarters of Elea, the headquarter of the German Food and Beverage Association, a modern organic dairy farm and a food processing equipment manufacturing plant.”
The group went as part of the German-American Transatlantic Cluster Initiative, a program that seeks to connect German industry officials with American partners.
Wilt said the trip, that was approved by Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes and Lowell McGlothin and paid for by Clark County taxpayers, was not a vacation. She said the group had little downtown and learned a lot about opportunities that can help Clark County’s economy grow.
The commission approved $4,000 for the trip, but about $2,000 was spent overall.
“Germany is the third largest food trader in the world behind the United States and the Netherlands,” Wilt said. “German culture has a tremendous impact on food production in West Central Ohio due to the number of German settlers to the area who have remained working in farming and food processing.”
The American delegation was made up of 14 people, Wilt said, including the three from Clark County, one person from Chillicothe, Columbus and Dayton. There were also representatives from Nebraska, Illinois and Massachusetts.
Wilt said a specific item she is interested in discussing with the local food council is the production of white asparagus. She said the food is popular in Germany and stores have a hard time keeping it on their shelves.
“It seems that dry sandy soils are ideal for growing, and the labor to grow it is quite intense,” Wilt said. “This is probably not a match for Clark County, but we should explore with the local foods council to be sure.”
“In addition, the DIL innovation hub was a model that could be used in Clark County to start up new food processing ideas and business that address sustainability issues,” she said. “It can also be a great point of connection for the Global Impact STEM Academy students in food science/biotechnology - for student exchanges, innovation exchanges and curriculum sharing.”
Jennings said he had good conversations with the German leaders and Americans on the trip. He said there have been discussions about giving GISA students opportunities to go to Germany.
Global Impact Stem Academy is an Ohio STEM school in Springfield that is public but has special enrollment requirements. Its curriculum is focused on agriculture and food processing.
Wilt said the biggest take is the similarities between consumers and workforce issues in both the U.S. and Germany.
“The only differences with the workforce were the different structure of labor unions in Germany and their heavy influence on wages,” she said. “Like Americans, German consumers are interested and willing to pay more for regional and organic products. They place a value on sustainability and transparency.”
The three took the trip just a few weeks after a German coalition visited Springfield to initiate discussions about potential investments.