Bertram Hilgen: The Kassel business region – well equipped for the future

With a population of 193,000 and the venue of the “documenta” arts exhibition, Kassel is Hessen’s third-largest city and the main commercial, cultural and social centre of the Northern Hessen region. The excellent range of cultural and leisure activities and the high quality of life delights locals and guests alike. The city is like an attractive landscape with many parks and green areas, and Europe’s largest hill park with Wilhelmshöhe Castle, the Löwenburg and the Herkules, soon to be included in the UNESCO World Her­­itage List, enjoys worldwide renown.

Kassel especially attracts international attention as the venue of the “documenta”, the world’s largest contemporary art exhibition. Surrounded by the independent cities and towns of Baunatal, Vellmar, Kaufungen and others, Kassel represents a compact economic region of some 350,000 people. The entire catchment area of the Kassel regional centre has a population of one million people. Kassel is closely linked to its immediate surroundings not only economically but also via public transport, with the Regio­tram offering an excellent commuter service when compared with the rest of Germany.

 

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German reunification in 1990 brought the Kas­­sel economic region back its spe­­cial central position in Germany and Europe. This provided new opportunities for de­­vel­­opment in a region which had once seen an above-average level of un­­employ­­ment. But both the location and the infrastruc­­ture must be right so that the location advantages can be reflected sin economic dynamism. Here, too, Kas­sel traditionally had ideal conditions. Even in the early years of the Deutsche Bahn, centrally lo­­cat­­ed Kassel was a major rail hub. The construc­­tion of the new ICE line from Hanover to Würzburg in the 1980s and the opening of the Kassel-Wilhelms­hö­­he express rail­­way station in 1990 did the rest. These investments not only transformed the originally placid suburb of Wilhelmshöhe into a prospering service centre, they also changed the entire region.

Kassel makes good use of its location advantages with its road links as well; the main urban centres in the north, west and south of the state can be reached quickly via the existing motorways A7, A44 and A49. And even the long-interrupted link to eastern Germany has been restored by the now almost continually accessible A38 motorway to Halle and Leipzig. The closing of the “gap” in the A44 to Eisenach will shorten driving time to eastern Germany even more.
The most important infrastructure pro­ject at the moment is probably the con­­struction of the new Kassel-Cal­­den airport for some 150 million euros. Economic benefits are expected not only from the airport’s operations but also from companies locating to the adjoining industrial park, which is to be built right next-door to Eurocopter, ZF Luft­fahrt­technik and a few other companies already based at the airport.

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The strengths of the Kas­sel economic region have since become well-known, especially in the logistics sector. Part of this foundation was laid by the decision of the Volks­­wagen Group to combine its logistics activities in the spare parts business in the Kassel region. Today the Volkswagen manufacturing components centre has over 500,000 square metres of warehouse space and some 2,500 employees in halls OTC 1 to 5. It is al­­ready Europe’s largest logistics centre; OTC 6 is already being planned. The intercity freight transport centre, which was planned simultaneously, in the Kassel-Lohfelden-Ful­­dabrück triangle has also become a success story and most of the sections on the 60 hectare or so block of land have already been sold. The industrial park Kassel, which is the biggest contiguous industrial park between Ha­no­­ver and Frankfurt, has already benefited. With its warehouse right on the junction of the A7, A44 and A49 motorways, it can definitely be called one of the most commercially significant locations in Germany. Today some 400 companies with over 9,000 employees are already based here.

The Kas­­sel business region has essentially remained a location with the latest manufacturing facilities. The VW plant in Bau­­natal, northern Hessen’s biggest employer, has blossomed into the pearl of the Volks­wa­gen Group. In Kassel, Bombardier makes high-quality railway locomotives for the internation­al market, and the truck axles for technology leader Mer­­cedes and the motor vehicle and trans­­port technology products from Hübner are made here as well. Wintershall AG, Germany’s biggest natural oil and natural gas producer is also based in Kas­­sel, as are the head offices of K+S Ak­­tien­­gesellschaft, which is now listed in Germany’s share market, the DAX.

And now a second industrial mainstay is to reinforce the Kassel region over the long term. North Hessen is to become a model region for state-of-the-art energy and efficiency technologies.

A study presented in December 2007 esti­­mated that some 20,000 highly skilled jobs could be created by 2020. This sec­­tor of the economy could play as important a role as the motor vehicle manufacturing industry does today. The De­­zentrale Energie­ver­­sor­­gungs­technol­o­gien e.V. (Decentralised Energy Supply Tech­­nologies Society) com­­pe­tence network already combines al­­most 100 companies, service providers and re­­search centres, including the Fraunhofer Institute for building Physics at the Zentrum für Um­­welt­be­­wusstes Bauen (centre for environ­mentally conscious construction) at the University of Kassel and the inter­­na­tion­­ally famous Fraun­hofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Sys­tem Technology, or IWES. Today no less an organization than the dynamically growing company SMA Solar Technology AG, which has just built the biggest inverter factory in the world for 40 million euros, is proof that the Kassel economic region is a world leader in the energy technologies of the future

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Important stimuli for regional development in particular come from University of Kassel, which is now considered to be one of Germany’s most entrepreneurial universities. The number of first-year students is continuing to increase and there were almost 5,000 by the beginning of the 2009/2010 winter semester. Over the past few years, the correspond­­ing course has already been set with invest­­ments in nanostructure re­­search or projects promoting techno­l­ogy trans­­fer. The newly-formed Anwendungs­zentrum für Metallformgebung Metakus (Centre for Applied Metal-Forming Technologies Metakus), which has already distinguished itself through its practical link with the commercial world, is also considered to be exemplary. Concrete investment plans for a science park are currently being prepared as a response to the challenges of demographic change. Situated directly in the university environment, it will offer optimal conditions for university and business in order to carry out projects and transform the knowledge that orig­­inated at the university directly into jobs.

These examples show that the Kassel economic region is already well-equipped for the future with the investments which have been made to date. Over the last few years a remarkable economic up­­turn can be seen, which has had very positive ef­­fects on the employment market and has reduced unemployment on an above-aver­­age scale compared to Ger­many as a whole. The region can continue to build on its strengths as a place to do business, the potential of its cultural treasures and the incentives emanating from its university.

DSC_6906_breiterThe author studied law and political sci­­ences in Mar­burg. In 1980 he became spokesman of the former Lord Mayor Hans Eichel. In 1986 he became manager of the city’s legal department and in 1996, district president. From 1999 to 2005 he managed the municipal data centre in Kassel and was general man­­ager of the IT company ekom21. He has been Lord Mayor of the documenta city Kassel since 2005.