City touted to Europeans

November 7th, 2018

By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

John Sampson doesn't pass up an opportunity to promote northeast Indiana.

So when about 100 members of the European American Investment Council met this week at Grand Wayne Center, the president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership made his pitch.

“During this whole thing, we talked about what we do, what makes us unique,” Sampson said afterward. “We're a community who gets the needs of our employers.”

The Regional Partnership joined the invitation-only council about two years ago. 

The Berlin, Germany-based organization brings together small- and medium-sized European companies with small- and medium-sized American communities that would welcome the jobs and investment a new employer brings.

Matthias Beier, the council's president and CEO, said the organization is selective about which cities and regions it invites to join.

“We don't want to connect (member companies) with someone who might disappoint them,” he said, adding that northeast Indiana officials have proven themselves as solid partners for foreign investors.

Family-owned businesses in Europe often have limited knowledge about U.S. cities when they decide to expand production here. They need a trusted adviser to steer them toward proven partners in welcoming locations, he added.

“They do not necessarily know Fort Wayne,” Beier said. “Most people know what they have seen on vacation or in the movies.”

That includes New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We say, 'Good luck finding the workforce (you need) there. Good luck buying land there,' ” he added.

This year's annual meeting focused on the automotive industry and included at least four representatives of companies looking to make U.S. connections. But northeast Indiana wasn't the only region with economic development officials in the mix.

The gathering also included officials from communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia, among others.

Tineke Beirlaen was among the international members who participated in a panel discussion during the conference. The vice president of Dakota Coatings said her Belgian employer makes adhesive powder coatings for various industries, including automotive.

In her dealings with U.S. customers, Beirlaen has found that foreign companies need to have a local presence and prove themselves.

Once that working relationship is formed, however, American customers are deeply loyal to their suppliers when quality remains consistently high.

A German company, she said, might end an otherwise successful contract if going with another supplier brings even meager savings.