Dr. Klaus Weichel: From the idea to the finished product – High-tech location Kaiserslautern offers the perfect setting

Over the last few years, Kaiserslautern has been extremely successfully transformed from a former military and industrial location into a high-tech location of international standing. Thanks to steady promotion and intensive efforts by political circles, the scientific and commercial communities, an impressive local network of research centres and private sector companies has developed.

Kaiserslautern is a regular top contender in the company start-up stakes in Rhineland-Palatinate. In the first half of 2016, 13.2 companies were formed for every 10,000 residents – the best figure of the state’s five main centres and the third-best in the state as a whole.

As the most recent survey impressively proves, even the number of high-tech companies formed from tertiary educational institutions or research centres increased from 61 in 2012 to 75 in 2014; in the same period, the number of employees went up from just under 2,000 to just under 2,500. Overall, this meant that, at the end of 2014, over 6,100 people were working in the high-tech sector in Kaiserslautern. While many of these jobs are in highly-paid positions, they essentially create down­­stream employment for less-qualified employees as well.

With the Technical University (TU), the Hochschule Kaisers­lau­tern University of Ap­plied Sciences, the Max Planck Institute, the German Research Center for Artifical Intelligence (DFKI) and three Fraunhofer institutes, a top-rank research scene has become established over the last few years. Many high-tech products and software applications, which are used all around the world, were all “made in Kaiserslautern”, whether it was a weighing system which accurately weighs very small goods at top speed on a production line, software, which stores millions of sound and image documents at radio and television broadcasting stations or software for securities trading and administration used by banks throughout the world.

Kaiserslautern TU is the only technically/engineering-oriented university in the Rhineland-Palatinate. In a recent university/college ranking by the business magazine “Wirtschaftswoche”, the University was one of the top ten in four categories: mechanical engineering, sales engineering, computing science and electrical engineering /information technology and established its leadership against competitors from all over Germany. In 2016, Kaiserslautern Technical University was listed in the British “Times Higher Educational Supplement” magazine as one of the 500 best universities in the world for the first time. Some 14,500 students enjoy an excellent education here. Some 6,200 students are also currently enrolled at the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences (including its other campuses in Zweibrücken and Pirmasens).

All these figures prove that Kaiserslautern is flourishing. Its scientific environment, with two tertiary educational institutions and many research centres, offers high-tech companies ideal conditions so that innovative products – and hence new jobs – can be created here. Our Science Alliance, Business Innovation Center and city business development organisation are helping to ensure that everything is being done to successfully implement the company or branch formation process from the initial idea to actual implementation.

Compared particularly with cities of similar size, Kaisers­lautern also has cultural, event and shopping facilities it can be proud of and which need fear no comparison. Due to the establishment of IKEA and the centrally located shopping centre “K in Lautern” in 2015, we have gained enormous traction, and with the Pfalzgalerie, the Pfalztheater and the Kulturzentrum Kammgarn (a cultural centre), we have outstanding cultural facilities with a certain appeal that goes beyond this state. And our many major events, such as the Old Town Festival and the Long Night of Culture, also contribute to Kaiserslautern’s potential. And we have the perfect local recreation area right on our doorstep in the Palatinate Forest.

So Kaiserslautern has already created ideal conditions for long-term development and has every reason to look forward to an optimistic future, particularly since the construction of a genuine “milestone” is imminent. Over the next few years, a completely new, lively suburb is to be built on the site of the old Pfaff knitting machine factory right on the edge of the central city where all the opportunities we want will be available. Situated on about 20 hectares – whereof 16.5 hectares have belonged to the city since late 2015 – the site offers the perfect opportunity to connect the “science mile” at the Technical University with the central city through a mix of high-quality technology uses, health services and residential areas. The earth and the ground water are still very contaminated but the state government will be helping to finance the urgently-­needed environmental work through its Ministries of Commerce and the Interior. Overall, over 30 million euros of funding from the state and federal governments will go to developing the old Pfaff site.

This funding will enable us to create an urban suburb for everyone, a suburb which will further benefit Kaiserslautern greatly. The high-tech field in particular is to be further expanded on the old Pfaff site and many new jobs are to be created. But there is more to an urban suburb. We want a healthy mix of jobs, housing, cafés/restaurants and urban services. We want a suburb in which young and old enjoy to live. An attra­ctive architectural design with many green spaces and a modern transport and communications infrastructure will also contribute to this.

The Pfaff site really offers us a unique opportunity, not merely from an urban planning point of view. I am sure that, over the next few years, it will be symbolic of the major development that Kaiserslautern is currently experiencing.

If you like, drop in and see us. It will be worth it!

Dr. Klaus Weichel
Klaus Weichel received his doctorate in biology at the Kaiserslautern TU. He was the director of Kaiserslautern’s City Environment and Forests Section from 1990 to 1995. He headed the city Department of the Environment, Health, Youth and Affairs Social and Sport Section from 1995 to 1999 and was President of the Southern Regional Structural and Approvals Directorate in Neustadt an der Weinstraße from 2000 to 2007. Dr Weichel has been Lord Mayor of the city of Kaiserslautern since 2007.