Culpeper Times Staff Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2013 – Front Page
It was in April, 299 years ago, that 42 German men, women and children came to Virginia from villages near Siegen in what is today the North Rhine Westphalia region of the country.
The settlers were housed by Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood, who hoped to use them to mine his lands since the area from which they came was a well-known iron-producing region.
Those settlers were joined by others three years later, in 1717, and helped establish a significant German presence in the Culpeper-Orange-Madison area. Many area German names today tell of families with ties to those immigrants.
Monday night the Germans returned as representatives from six German companies were welcomed at a reception hosted by the Germanna Foundation at its visitor’s center next to Germanna Community college on Route 3.
The German delegation first toured the new LEED-certified Science and Engineering building at the Fredericksburg campus of GCC. Although Germanna Community College is not affiliated with the Germanna Foundation, it was the foundation which gave the college 100 acres to build its first campus in Locust grove in 1969. The two entities maintain close ties.
The companies represented included: Dieffenbacher (press systems, production systems for wood panels and automotive component production), Eisenmann Biogas (planning and installation of biogas plants), Vecoplan (manufacture of wood chippers and recycling), Schmack and EnviTec biogas (biogas production) and Herbert Meitinger GmbH (technology).
“(We were) contacted by the German Chamber of Commerce,” said Bruce Davis, a trustee of the Germanna foundation and chief liaison to Germanna Community College president Dr. David Sam. “Based on the German immigration of 1714 it seemed like a natural thing. The biogas technology would produce energy from animal and human waste. Local economic development authorities hope to attract some of that industry to the area.”
Marc Wheat, executive director of the Germanna Foundation, told the assembled leaders that he is descended from nine of the original 42 settlers.
Wheat said that interest by Germans in finding out more about their ancestors led to the start of the Germanna Foundation.
A series of family reunions began in the 1940s led by Brawdus Martin and from that group eventually came a gift of funds to purchase 270 acres of the Germanna tract. The Brawdus Martin Visitor’s Center was dedicated in July 2000.
“All of this came from interest by Germans in their American cousins” Wheat said. “Usually it’s Americans looking for German relatives, but it was the reverse here. It is great that we can encourage German companies to put down their roots in the Piedmont.”
Sam said Germanna Community College is proud of its name and its heritage.
“We’re one of 23 community colleges in Virginia,” Sam said. “We train people in traditional college classes, but we also train them for work.”
Sam cited the college nursing program which graduates 150 to 200 students per year.
“We have handpicked people who can help you establish your business here,” Wheat told the German visitors. “This is a target-rich environment for making our relationship (with Germany) even stronger. We have the same values.”
Ralf Rosenkranz is with Vecoplan. The company is located in Marienberg, Germany but Rosenkranz lives in Siegen.
“I work in Germany, but I am responsible for our colleagues in the U.S. so I come here five or six times a year,” he said. “I was in North Carolina and Minnesota and I got here Saturday. Next I will be going to Houston.
“For me this is an interesting area. I want to see if I can figure out ways to (do business here). It would be nice to have more time (to trace) my roots. Maybe I can get back here next year for a vacation.”
Carl Sachs, Culpeper County director of economic development, said he sees value in the visit.
“This will give them an opportunity to learn the landscape of the Piedmont region, Culpeper in particular,” Sachs said. “We are opening dialogue, exchanging business cards and providing web addresses. Maybe it will be an opportunity for them and us. It needs to be a win-win situation.”
Culpeper County supervisor Larry Aylor agreed.
“It is a golden opportunity,” he said. “We have so much to offer with fiber optics, Terremark and all they have, SWIFT. When you move here you are family. They are interested in the ‘green’ industry, in turning refuse into a fuel source. I can see that as becoming a commodity.
“We can offer incentives, a trained workforce and key contacts. I can see that as a big attraction for them.”
Ulrike Mello, who teaches German at Eastern View and Culpeper County high schools is from Germany originally. She will be taking a group of students there this summer as part of an exchange program. Thus, she has a unique perspective.
“I’m very excited to see this happening,” she said. “I tell my students that learning German is something that can get them somewhere,” she said. “My students are going to tour some German companies while in Europe this summer. Germany is the economic power of Europe and events like this will help the students see that there is value in knowing the German language if we can partner up with German companies.”