The Intersection of Success

Ilmenau in Thuringia has successfully made the transition from traditional industry during the GDR era to a prime, modern location for technology. Companies can find large industrial sites for ­development and a strong local science network.

June 2020

The early nineties were a tough time for the people in the region of Ilmenau in southern Thuringia. Its main industries of chemical plant construction and mechanical engineering were fighting to stay afloat. “Many companies from the GDR era were no longer competitive, and traditional sales markets in eastern Germany and the former Eastern Bloc states broke away,” explains Thomas Scheller from the local government administration. The result was an all-too-common story in the eastern states: Many jobs were lost, many people moved away.

Nevertheless, the people who stayed never lost their confidence. They put ambitious plans in place to revivify the old industrial sites and attract innovative technology companies to the area. Several local organizations worked tirelessly to achieve this: The state’s ministry of economics, the municipal administration, the State Development Corporation of Thuringia (LEG), and Ilmenau University of Technology (TU).

Technicians work on an aircraft engine at N3 Engine Overhaul Services on the Erfurter Kreuz industrial estate, Thuringia. As a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Lufthansa Technik AG, N3 has grown into one of the world’s most modern maintenance centers for large civil engines within a very short space of time.  © N3 Engine Overhaul Services GmbH & Co. KG, Dr. Jan Kobel


Research institutes attract technology business

The cities of Ilmenau and Arnstadt were among the first to develop new large industrial and commercial sites, which promptly found buyers. For example, more than 100 technology-oriented companies (some of them internationally active) have settled in the vicinity of the TU. All of them make good use of the links to the research and development departments of the university and the direct access to graduate talent. They can also network with public research institutions, such as the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB and the IMMS Institute for Microelectronic and Mechatronic Systems. The start-up scene is also well supported by the Technology and Start-Up Center Ilmenau.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the LEG joined forces with the local district to tackle a major project: the construction of the Erfurter Kreuz industrial estate. The 400ha site is located only 20km from Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. Moreover, it is well connected to the rail network and located directly at the A4 and A71 freeway intersection – two of the main traffic axes in central Germany.

»The settlement will further strengthen Thuringia’s largest industrial area.«

Petra Enders
district administrator

The region’s central location is a big selling point for many foreign companies, says Scheller – after all, they can easily transport their goods. The industrial park had its first breakthrough in 2005, when an international joint venture between the airline Lufthansa and the British manufacturing company Rolls-Royce settled there. The “N3 Engine Overhaul Services” venture maintains and overhauls aircraft engines.

Chinese battery manufacturer chooses Ilmenau

Other foreign companies are picking up on the potential of the industrial park – for example, the Chinese battery manufacturer CATL is setting up its European HQ there. Construction began in October 2019 and production is scheduled to begin by 2022. In total, the Chinese company plans to invest up to EUR 1.8 billion and create 2,000 new jobs. District administrator Petra Enders says the move is a big vote of confidence for the region: “The settlement will further strengthen Thuringia’s largest industrial area as an edonomic and growth engine for the federal state.”


Increase in GDP in the region of Ilmenau between 2000 and 2016

Source: Ilm-Kreis

Local economy is growing fast

“The establishment of CATL is one of the largest and most forward-looking industrial invest ments in Thuringia,” affirms Dr. Arnulf Wulff of LEG. Erfurter Kreuz is already the largest industrial estate in Thuringia – a total of around 10,000 new jobs have been created here to date. Companies based in Arnstadt and the neighboring municipality of Wachsenburg, for example, could take advantage of the 180ha of land available here.

A current location analysis by the local chamber of industry and commerce shows that the region has grown rapidly since the year 2000. Within 16 years, the district has increased its gross domestic product (GDP) by almost 91 percent to EUR 3.1 billion. It is now home to more than 7,700 companies, and its momentum is growing.

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