North Rhine-Westphalia synonymous with coal and steel? It is time to
finally abandon old images and get to know the most populated federal
state as an industrial location which, with its GDP of 600 billion euros,
could easily make a good showing within the G20.
Smoking chimneys – dying industry. Those who only know North Rhine-Westphalia from the outside usually indulge in old prejudices. In reality, the state offers a different picture. It resembles the one that Willy Brandt painted more than 50 years ago – with his vision of the “blue sky over the Ruhr river”.
Until today, the Ruhr region is the synonym for German industry. And we want it to stay this way. “NRW – We are industry” is our guiding cause. It expresses a focal point of our political work, which unconditionally follows this premise: North Rhine-Westphalia needs its industry. It is the foundation of our prosperity.
More than half of all jobs in NRW depend on industry: almost one third in manufacturing, roughly the same number with service providers that work for and with industry. The service-oriented production is growing along with the traditional production-oriented services.
We do not differentiate between old and new industry. That would be outdated. Production processes and products of the once “old” industries are now state-of-the-art. An example: the 200-year-old Friedrich Wilhelms-Hütte in Mülheim now produces cast steel products for wind power plants.
We take good care of our industry. We support innovations and in doing so we secure jobs and protect the climate – and we promote acceptance of industry and infrastructure.
Long-term and successful work aims at securing and creating good and competitive jobs. It does not aim at the cheapest, but at the best location.
Modern industry and ecological sustainability is not an inherent contradiction. Let’s take chemistry, which is often combated by industry opponents. It saves resources with considerable success. Here, energy consumption was uncoupled from growth in production: since 1990, production grew by 58 per cent, whilst energy use decreased by 20 per cent. At the same time, chemistry reduced the carbon dioxide emission by one-half – and simultaneously expanded its excellent position on the world market. Therefore it is clear: it is in the very own economic interest of a company to efficiently use resources and economise ecologically.
resilience of the industry through exaggerated ecology. Because we cannot afford a de-industrialisation. That is why we insist on equality between economic and social dimensions, along with the ecological dimension.
In the long run, one key to success could be the Blue Economy. The concept behind this is protecting ecosystems and creating new jobs at the same time. The Blue Economy considers emissions and waste to be misguided resources. It propagates a kind of economy which keeps on reproducing its social, economic and ecological foundations again and again.
The Blue Economy, a further-development of Green Economy, does not correspond to the romantic image of small, regional self-sufficient communities, in which there are only selfless and public welfare-oriented companies. Blue Economy accepts that our economy is complex, collaborative and internationally intertwined. The new progress leads from production-oriented services to service-oriented production.
Even in the industrial state NRW, industry and its required infrastructure are not always welcome everywhere. In order to diffuse conflicts between companies, municipalities and citizens or to prevent them altogether, we strive for an approach based on partnership with the local population. To be precise: we have established a branch at the Ministry of Economic Affairs called “Dialog schafft Zukunft – Fortschritt durch Akzeptanz” (Dialogue creates future – Progress through acceptance). It mediates between citizens, business, politics and administration at a high level of professionalism before the damage is done.
We will not jeopardise the industrial core of the state. While other states pursued a policy of de-industrialisation, it was North Rhine-Westphalia that emphasised modernising industry with great success.
Like the entire economy, industry needs a stable infrastructure and versatile logistics. Without exaggerating: NRW‘s industry is a valuable asset. We know: production and logistics belong together.
Our traditionally strong industrial roots serve as the foundation for the development of promising products and services. Automobile logistics developed into an important industry sector and made, for example, the Ruhr region a hub for the distribution of automobiles and automobile components.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s leading position as an industry and logistics location is based on different factors: the central location in Europe, the proximity to major seaports in Belgium and the Netherlands, the efficient infrastructure, the great population density and the outstanding employee potential.
The central theme of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in NRW is “Vorausschauende Wirtschaftspolitik” (far-sighted economy policy). It targets innovation and progress. In doing so, we admit to our industrial roots. Only with an efficient and innovative industry can we master problems such as worldwide distribution of work and specialisation, environment and climate protection, scarcity of resources, demographic change, but also debt crisis and energy transition.
An innovation culture that is focused on this makes its ne-
cessary to concentrate on growing leading markets around the world, in which NRW displays particular strengths and specialisation advantages especially with a focus on science and business. Our leading markets are mobility and logistics, new materials, machines and plant engineering/production technology, energy and environmental management as well as information and communication management.
The driving forces behind this are the state clusters, cluster management and regional networks in North Rhine-Westphalia. They identify topics of the future, analyse trends on the leading markets and organise cooperation across cluster borders. That is how innovations grow.
The European Union has developed a strategy for intelligent, sustainable and integrative growth, called Europe 2020. It requires an intelligent, sustainable and integrative economy. Therefore it has set specific goals for research and development, climate change and sustainable energy management as well as education.
Industry plays an important role in this. The new EU framework programme for research and innovation “Horizon 2020”, includes the “Industrial Leadership” chapter – with a promotion focus on “Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies”, “Access to Risk Finance” and “Innovation in SMEs”. NRW has advantages in all of these topics.
North Rhine-Westphalia and its industry has been an innovation driver and a driving force beyond Germany for decades. To maintain this, we need an industry with many facets. This includes companies which need considerable amounts of electrical power. It would be a disaster if companies had to leave our state because electricity here is too expensive – and then produce abroad, without having to care about resource efficiency or environmental compatibility.
Put clearly: we need all companies; we count on a strong industry.
The author was born in Leer in 1968 and studied Law and Protestant Theology in Göttingen and Bielefeld. He was voted into the European Parliament in 2000, before accepting a seat in the German parliament from 2005 to 2012. Since 2012, the fully qualified lawyer is the Minister for Economics, Energy, Industry and Commerce in North Rhine-Westphalia.