Kill Bill, The Aviator and the Pirates of the Caribbean would not have ever been seen in their high quality on the screens by any audiences if the film reels hadn’t been scanned by the film scanners of the Weiterstadt-based company. The company’s close proximity to the Frankfurt airport guarantees the direct connection to its customer base in Hollywood for the DFT Digital Film Technology Holding GmbH, the location in the engineering region Darmstadt-Rhine-Main-Neckar guarantees the availability of skilled workers. And those are important for the medium-sized enterprises: one third of the 175 employees develop the technology, another third build the cabinet-size machines. Software developers, mathematicians, physicists, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers work hand in hand.
This is a typical example of the innovative strength in the engineering region all around the city of Darmstadt. Here, products have been invented which have long been part of everyday life. Even lesser known medium-sized businesses, so-called ‘hidden champions’, are producing in this region and export their products and services throughout the world. Through Plexiglas, which was developed by Otto Röhm in Darmstadt (formerly Röhm GmbH, today Evonik Röhm GmbH), pilots see from their cockpits to the sky. In more than 50 countries around the world dream globes (snow domes), household and office products made of coloured plastic by the Erbacher Koziol GmbH decorate kitchens, living rooms and offices. The cars produced by the Rüsselsheim-based manufacturer Opel are driven by people from around the world. Medical drugs produced by Merck heal not only the sick in Germany. Companies in China, Honduras and Canada have long since worked with the databases developed and created by Software AG. Even patients in Japan and Saudi-Arabia are treated on dentist chairs build by Sirona from Bensheim. EUMETSAT in Darmstadt, as intergovernmental organisation, observes the weather for 25 European states with its satellites. The tyres by Pirelli from Breuberg in the Odenwald wheel on motorcycles and SUVs across streets from New Zealand to the United States. Cargo ships from the Gernsheim container harbour commute to Rotterdam. Packages and goods depart from the Kelsterbach airport to the whole world. The networks of T-Systems span from Darmstadt across the globe. Experts from the European Space Operations Centre ESOC in Darmstadt look after missions by the European Space Agency and other organisations.
The tranches of the industries. The region of Darmstadt-Rhine-Main-Neckar is a part of the metropolitan region Rhine-Main in the north and the metropolitan region Rhine-Neckar in the south. This includes the city of Darmstadt, the Darmstadt-Dieburg district as well as the districts Groß-Gerau, Bergstraße and Odenwald. The trademark of the vibrant economic region is a mix of small businesses, medium-sized and large-sized companies.
The export quota of the 70,000 member companies of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Darmstadt is estimated at 60 per cent, about ten per cent have business partners or clients outside of Europe.
One example is the pharmaceutical and specialty chemistry. Darmstadt’s largest employer, Merck KGaA, looks back onto a long-standing tradition. The Evonik Röhm GmbH, which was established in 1907 and is now a subsidiary of Evonik Industries AG in the city of Essen, researches and manufactures specialty chemical products. The Döhler Group, which manufactures natural ingredients for the food industry, also has its headquarters in Darmstadt.
The information technology and telecommunications originating in Darmstadt also find their home in the world. Several of Germany’s software giants have their headquarters or a location in Southern Hessen: CA Computer Associates, Devoteam Danet GmbH, Software AG, SAP Deutschland AG & Co. KG as well as Deutsche Telekom AG. With the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics and the computer science department Interactive Graphics Systems Group (GRIS) at the TU Darmstadt, the region became known at home and abroad as an IT location. The region is the birthplace of the business software, which since the 1970s has conquered the global market with its software innovations. 5,500 software companies are based in and around Darmstadt, Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. They employ 30,000 people.
One trademark of the region is the strong logistics industry. The major commercial areas in Kelsterbach are the hub for goods of all kinds. In the Cargo City South, air cargo is processed, on the Mönchhof site, a central warehouse is currently constructed for the food industry company Rewe. From there, the online retailer ‘Dress for less’ sends its merchandise to the customers; and you can reach the airport in merely seven minutes from this location. But also other companies have their logistics centres near Darmstadt. The chain saws and cutters of Stihl AG & Co. KG are delivered to the specialty retailers from Dieburg. Goods depart weekly from the Gernsheimer harbour to the seaport Rotterdam. Large forwarders such as the company Bender in Gernsheim and the Lohr forwarding company in Darmstadt ship by truck.
Working in the network. When companies decide to work within the structure of a network they form clusters. There are approximately 15 clusters in the Darmstadt-Rhine-Main-Neckar region. From automation and logistics to e-mobility, companies develop joint projects for the future. One of the networks is the Automotive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar. All around the automotive company Opel, a sector has developed and come together.
In Southern Hessen, 23,000 people are directly employed in the automobile and parts manufacturing industry. Almost every forth employee in Southern Hessen is working in this industry. The cluster region is home to about 2,700 mostly medium-sized automotive companies representing about twelve per cent of the employed in the region. A much larger number of suppliers can be found in the sectors of rubber and plastic products, metal, mechanical and electrical engineering. Many other companies also provide business services for the automotive industry. With the high density of engineers in the cluster region, innovations are generated throughout the whole value chain.
From the laboratory to the portfolio. The high presence of international institutions and the companies with worldwide contacts have expanded the horizon of the economy of Southern Hessen. And not only that: in the science city of Darmstadt, scientist and entrepreneurs work closely together. The mutual exchange helps to implement findings from research, so that they become a commercial success.
Intelligent juniors for the region. Not only products and services, research and its innovative results come from the universities and the Fraunhofer Institute or other research institutions of the region, but also the intelligent and creative professionals of the future.
The education of young people has a long-standing tradition in Darmstadt: in 1877 the Institute of Technology became the TU Darmstadt – at that time it was still considered a University of Applied Sciences. Today, also the Protestant University of Applied Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering Sciences of the Rhine-Main University are in Southern Hessen. Altogether these universities train about 36,000 students. Highly qualified professionals come from the educational institutions in the region. Nation-wide university rankings attest to the fact that Darmstadt’s educational institutions are top level. Degrees from Southern Hessen are internationally competitive.
Work is only one half of life. In a region where so many innovations emerge, the living environment is also attractive. For the purpose of spending leisure time, the nearby Odenwald is particularly interesting. The Bergstraße and Rheinauen provide many recreational and sports facilities and thus a good balance to working life. The wide range of cultural offerings that can be found in the Rhine-Main-Neckar area, the gastronomic variety and attractive living environment contribute to the fact that the region is a good place to live. Even the recreational fun in Darmstadt and the surrounding area is international: since 2011, a solar-powered trolley travels across the Odenwald forest, which is also intended to be used in the future as a robust and universal transport system in developing and emerging countries.
The author is honorary vice-president of the IHK (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) in Darmstadt and chairman of the Marketing Committee of the Chamber of Commerce site. The panel controls the regional location marketing campaign “addicted to innovation” and deals with location-initiatives of the metropolitan regions Rhine-Main and Rhine-Neckar. Prof. Dr. Sinemus is managing partner (CEO) of the Genius GmbH.