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Cozy ties between Alabama, Germany

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — A partnership with roots in luxury automobiles and moon rockets is thriving between Alabama and Germany, with ThyssenKrupp AG only the latest German company to locate in the state.

Once known overseas for farming, poverty and strained race relations, Alabama is now home to 50 German industries that state officials say employ upward of 12,000 people. Thousands more work in related companies.

ThyssenKrupp made a splash on May 11 when it said it would build a mammoth, $3.7 billion steel plant near the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile County. But before it there were other German companies in Alabama including BASF, Degussa and — the crown jewel of all — Mercedes Benz.

Like others, ThyssenKrupp said it selected Alabama because of a combination of incentives, location and other factors.

“We see many similarities between Alabama and Germany,” spokesman Christian Koenig said. “Generally speaking, both Germany and Alabama are great places to business. More specifically, both have a well-trained workforce and a strong work ethic.”

The surge in German industry dates to 1993, when Mercedes picked a farming community west of Birmingham for its first U.S. assembly plant.

The factory now makes three different vehicles and employs more than 4,000 people.

German manufacturers weren’t the only ones lured to Alabama in the wake of Mercedes — Japan-based Honda and Hyundai, of South Korea, have both since constructed plants in the state.

But Germany remains Alabama’s largest international market, with exports of $3.6 billion last year, according to the International Trade Administration.

Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office, said the state’s recruitment of international industries can be defined by two periods: before Mercedes and after Mercedes.

“Everything changed. Doors were opened to us internationally that had never been opened to us until Mercedes came here,” he said.

Alabama’s ties to the European nation go back further than Mercedes, however.

German immigrants founded the North Alabama city of Cullman in 1866, and Huntsville has a thriving space industry because of the late German rocket scientist Wehrner von Braun.

Von Braun, the chief rocket engineer for Nazi Germany, moved his team of scientists to what was then a Tennessee Valley cotton town after World War II.

Huntsville boomed and became the home of the Saturn V rocket, which first took astronauts to the moon in 1969.

Hajo Drees, the German-born head of Alabama’s industrial recruitment efforts in Europe, said the von Braun story and Mercedes are both “great selling points” for Alabama in Germany.

Speaking by telephone from Germany, where he was on the road trying to recruit a small automotive supplier to the
state, Drees said the strong German presence in the state helps lure more companies to Alabama.

“It becomes a quality of life issue,” Drees said. “Germans are respected (in Alabama). You can feel it.”

Some of that feeling is nothing but old-fashioned Southern hospitality, but some of it is calculated.

Trying to make Alabama feel like home for Germans, the nonprofit AlabamaGermany Partnership was formed to help foster friendships and make the transition to life in America easier for European ex-pats. Its one-room office in Birmingham has ties to the Germany’s U.S. consulate.

The director of the partnership, Patricia Coghlan, said at least three Alabama universities have German-language programs, and several towns have German festivals, including a dry Oktoberfest in Cullman, where alcohol sales are illegal.

German firms employ nearly 12,000

The state’s list of German-based industries in Alabama, with what they produce and their estimated employment:

  • Alabama Precision Mold, Cottondale, plastic injection molds, 21-30.

  • Aluminum Technology Schmid, Auburn, aluminum parts for automotive hydraulic applications, 31-40.

  • ATS Light Alloy Wheels, Auburn, aluminum wheels, 151-200.

  • Aviagen North America, Huntsville, poultry hatcheries, 76-100.

  • BASF Catalyst, Huntsville, catalytic converter systems, ozone converters, air purifiers, 451-500.

  • BASF Corp., Decatur, paint, 101-150.

  • Benteler Automotive, Opelika, automotive chassis systems, 201-250.

  • Berg Steel Pipe, Mobile, iron and steel pipe, not available.

  • BHS-HARREX, Tuscaloosa, product rework facility, 41-50.

  • Big Dutchman, Cullman, poultry equipment, 11-15.

  • Borgers USA, Brookwood, auto rear compartment interior trim and floor panels, 51-75.

  • Brose Tuscaloosa, Vance, automotive door modules, 76-100.

  • CRH North America, Clanton, auto seat adjuster systems, 451-550.

  • Degussa Corp., Theodore, chemicals, 751-900.

  • Diehl Avionics, Sterrett, aircraft product support and maintenance, 21-30.

  • Eberspaecher North America, Cottondale, auto exhaust systems, 101-150.

  • Eissman Automotice North America, Pell City, leather components for auto interiors, 76-100.

  • Esser Twin Pipe, Alabaster, twin wall pipe fabrication, 6-10.

  • ETEC/Durawear Corp., Birmingham, industrial ceramics, 11-15.

  • Fasco America, Muscle Shoals, pneumatic tools and fasteners distribution, 6-10.

  • Formel D USA, Birmingham, automotive support services provider, not available.

  • Hightex, Auburn, headliners, pillars and seat coverings, 6-10.

  • Hoerbiger Automatic Comfort Systems, Auburn, hydraulic actuating mechanisms, 51-75.

  • Hoerbiger Drivetech USA, Auburn, brake and clutch disc plates, 21-30.

  • INEOS Phenol, Theodore, phenol and acetone, 101-150.

  • ISE Innomotive Systems US, Tuscaloosa, front and rear end modules, 1-5.

  • J&S/AST North America, Auburn, pillar loops for seatbelt systems, 16-20.

  • KAUTEX Textron Alabama, Cottondale, fuel tanks, 1-5.

  • Knauf Insulation, Huguley, fiberglass insulation products, 301-350.

  • Kommering USA, Huntsville, rigid PVC foam sheets and trim board, 101-150.

  • Kostal Mexicana SA, Tuscaloosa, switches and electronics, 1-5.

  • Laempereich Corp., Trussville, core equipment for foundries, 11-15.

  • Lehigh Cement, Lees, cement, 101-150.

  • Linde Gas, Decatur, hydrogen gas, 6-10.

  • Linde Gas, Saraland, hydrogen gas, not available.

  • MAHA USA, Pinkard, auto lifts, 21-30.

  • MEMS Optical, Huntsville, micro-optic and micromachines, 21-30.

  • Mercedes Benz US International, Vance, sports utility vehicles, more than 4,000.

  • Oris Automotice Parts Alabama, McCalla, auto parts and accessories, 21-30.

  • Polyamide High Performance, Scottsboro, nylon automobile airbag yarn, 51-75.

  • Rehau, Cullman, auto exterior moldings, 351-450.

  • Sherman Industries, Birmingham, pre-stress concrete and ready-mix concrete, 351-450.

  • Siemens VDO Automotive Electronics, Huntsville, auto electronic parts, 1,501-2,000.

  • Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp., Fort Payne, electrical components, 251-300.

  • ThyssenKrupp Krause Inc., Madison, customized powertrain assembly systems, 11-15.

  • Turner Universal, Huntsville, general contractor, not available.

  • VST Keller Inc., Pell City, heat coating of stamping dies, 21-30.

  • WKW Erbsloeh Automotive Group, Pell City, metal automotive trim, not available.

  • Z/I Imaging Corp., Huntsville, geo-data management, 31-40.

  • ZF Industries Inc., Tuscaloosa, auto axle systems, 201-250.

    Source: Alabama Development Office

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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