AmCham Germany President: Stability, Geography, Education Make Germany So Attractive

October 2020

Frank Sportolari, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany © AmCham Germany, Jan Zappner/Raum 11

Germany’s reputation as a business location has rarely been better among US companies. Frank Sportolari, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Germany, says that’s down to a number of physical, cultural and economic qualities.

In this year’s AmCham Germany survey of the top 50 US companies in Germany, the country earned an even higher approval rating than in 2019. Why the improvement?

Frank Sportolari: I think the main point is that US companies for a long time have given Germany a very high rating. It’s not an anomaly that so many of them say, “We’re very eager to continue doing business in Germany.” The ones that are here continue to invest, and many other companies are looking at setting up their European operations in Germany.

Might this have something to do with a favorable view of Germany’s response to Covid-19?

Yes, that was one of the factors. It’s just another manifestation of the fact that many US companies view Germany as a well-managed country. The government is very stable, and there’s a respect for law, legal processes, intellectual property, etc… There’s just a very good atmosphere in Germany and that’s attractive to American companies.

 Your report finds that the IT and service industries are particularly benefitting during the Covid crisis. Could you expand a bit on that?

You don’t want to use the word benefit in a way, but let’s face it: some people have gotten some advantages through this. Certainly, the world was on a trajectory to become more and more digitalized, so it’s no surprise that IT companies would have an opportunity to sell their services more, as I don’t know how many people in Germany were sent into home offices. Many of them are still there. You also have the logistics industry, which is actually the third largest employer in Germany. And then you have large online retailers. People quite frankly ordered a lot more stuff. Those are the branches that did really well.

»I can’t think of any sector that shouldn’t be looking to internationalize, and I can’t think of any sector that wouldn’t want to come to Germany.«

For the first time in the new survey, Amazon has overtaken Ford as the US company with the largest turnover in Germany. How significant is that?

It certainly sounds very symbolic, doesn’t it? The online retailer overtakes the traditional, hundred-year-old car company. But if you look back to the 90s and ask: what were the biggest listed companies? They were all in the utilities, energy, chemicals and automotive. And now we’ve got FANG: facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Google. It’s a trend that’s going to keep on going and not be stopped any time soon. We shouldn’t be surprised by the Amazon-Ford development, although I think it came sooner than it would have to because of the disruption caused by the pandemic and the need for more stuff to be shipped to people’s homes.

What aspect of the German government’s economic policies do you think US companies like?

What’s appreciated is a very clear legal framework for doing business, stability in government and the educational system. There is the issue of the government holding stakes in companies in a way that’s not the case in the US. That’s an issue we always keep an eye on and help our members by making sure there’s a level playing field.

Why should US companies be looking to get involved on this playing field?

One thing that speaks very much in Germany’s favor is its central location. That’s something you’re not going to lose. Other countries aren’t going to get closer to the center of Europe. Germany is at the crossroads of north-south traffic in Europe. We’ve got the Rhine, which is the major navigable river in Europe. These are all very big natural things that speak toward Germany always enjoying a central position in connecting the trans-Atlantic economies. I also think the ability of companies to set up relative easily here compared to other countries is another thing that will encourage people, when they set up their European operations, to look at Germany very favorably. We see by the number of companies that choose to locate in Germany that it’s a very attractive place to be. I also applaud the efforts that Germany makes, with active “salespeople” in the US, helping companies make their investment decisions, providing them with guidance and steering them toward available grants. That are all things that are really helpful. I think it’s real leg up for Germany.

Are there any particular sectors you’d encourage to come here?

I can’t think of any sector that shouldn’t be looking to internationalize, and I can’t think of any sector that wouldn’t want to come to Germany, be it beverages, autos or whatever. It’s a good marketplace, and I can’t say it too often: stability is what people look for. Anyone who does any kind of precision manufacturing very much values the German educational system. I don’t know that there’s anywhere in the world you can put up your shingle and get people showing up, thorough trained, with a diploma. You don’t have to invest so much in training from day one to do their jobs correctly. Those qualities make Germany very interesting for American companies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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