By Kerry Sipe, Orange County Review
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Germans came to Virginia centuries ago looking for opportunity, and they’re still coming.
Representatives of six German businesses and local and regional economic development officials gathered on the grounds of the historic Germanna Settlement April 15 to learn from each other and to explore development opportunities.
The event was arranged by the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, which is committed to preserving the history of Virginia’s first settlement of German colonists in 1714.
“The fact that we were able to bring them to Orange County is a real plus,” said Karen T. Epps, the county’s director of economic development. “It’s very exciting.”
Epps said the county has many attributes that are attractive to foreign investors.
“We have a very talented workforce pool,” she said. “And we have a strong relationship with the community college, which is willing at any time to train workers based on the specific needs of a company.”
Lee Frame, vice chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, said the exchange of ideas was beneficial even if it does not immediately result in new business for the county.
“I’m not sure the German visitors are necessarily going to sign a contract here tonight,” Frame said. “But I think that establishing a rapport with them will result in them talking to each other and with their associates, and someone will say, ‘You know, we were in Orange County and it’s a really neat place, and they’ve got some opportunities.’ ”
Herbert Meitinger, who owns a small bio-mass and photovoltaic energy company in Southern Bavaria, said he came to Virginia looking both for new investors and new sources of the fuel pellets that many Germans use to heat their homes.
“I heard they make material in Virginia and send pellets to Italy and Spain,” he said. “It should be possible to send them to Germany as well.” He said he planned to meet with potential suppliers while in Virginia, “not in Orange County, but in this region.”
Ludwig S. Preinesberger, vice president of Sonic Tools of Ashland, a native German who has been doing business in Virginia for 12 years, said he had advised the German visitors that Virginia is a good place for international business because of its proximity to ports in Baltimore and Norfolk and airports in Baltimore, Washington and Richmond.
“It makes it very easy to deal on a daily basis with Germany,” Preinesberger said. “Therefore, the location is absolutely perfect.”
He also said the state’s many military veterans provide a ready supply of well-trained and experienced workers, especially in high-tech fields.
Urban Peyker, a consultant to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, said the German government would like to work with the Commonwealth to promote and develop renewable energy here.
“From what I’m seeing, from talks with people here, the potential is very, very big for biomass as an alternative energy source,” Peyker said.
“It’s not a big investment, so it can be used by small companies and the revenues stay in the community,” he said. “Instead of the whole energy system being controlled by a few big companies, alternative energies allow individual businesses to become their own energy sources.”
All of the German business people were in Virginia to attend a Bioenergy Conference in Richmond organized by the German-American Chamber of Commerce in New York and the Greater Richmond Partnership, which promotes jobs, investment and regional co-operation in and around the capital city.
Maria Nateva, a representative of the German-American Chamber of Commerce, said her organization and the Greater Richmond Partnership are working on both sides of the Atlantic to promote business relationships.
“There are already many German companies doing business in Virginia,” she said. “But there are many more opportunities for others to come here.”
The companies represented at a reception and dinner at the Germanna Foundation’s visitors center on the Germanna Community College campus, were Eisenmann Biogas, EnviTec Biogas, Schmack Biogas, Dieffenbacher, Herbert Meitinger and Vecoplan.