Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2008-10-17

The Consul General of Germany told a Samford University audience Thursday, Oct. 16, that he expects business partnerships between his nation and Alabama to remain solid, despite current economic conditions.

"Alabama is the state where German companies have made their biggest investments in recent years," said Lutz Hermann Gorgens, who is hopeful that the connection "will not be derailed" by the situation.

He said he believes that the 10-year Alabama-German business partnership "will lead to more trade, jobs and prosperity, even in this time of economic crisis," noting that most economists agree that a recession has started and may last a while.

Gorgens, who has represented Germany in various capacities for 30 years, spoke as part of Samford's Brock School of Business' international speakers series. Named deputy consul general in 2006, he was appointed to his present post last year. He operates from the German Consulate office in Atlanta, Ga.The transatlantic story extends beyond Alabama into other Southeastern states, and beyond business into education and politics, said Gorgens, whose audience in Samford's Reid Chapel included many non-business students.

Several companies with a presence in Alabama have expanded operations into other states in the region, said Gorgens, who commended the Mercedes-Benz operation in Vance for its recent high score in regard to working conditions. The plant was rated highest in the U.S. by the German metal workers union.

Gorgens noted that Germany's ThyssenKrupp, a huge employer in his native country, expects to put about 10,000 to work at its new plant near Mobile. The success of the plant is a combination of German technology, American working skills and a Brazilian product, he said, adding that being able to successfully train employees will be a key component.

The $3.7 billion hot strip mill under construction in south Alabama will process steel slabs manufactured in ThyssenKrupp's steel mill in Brazil.

On an academic level, transatlantic business is a good incentive for international studies, said Gorgens, who holds a Ph.D. in German literature and history from the University of Tubingen.

He advised students that to succeed in the global marketplace, they need both a mix of practical skills and other components of global citizenship, such as being multi-lingual. A mastery of at least one language beyond the native tongue is helpful, he said.

He commended Alabama's Senate and Congressional leadership for its support of international ventures, as well as Gov. Bob Riley's team, which has been leaders for the rest of the country, he said.

Gorgens noted the emotional connection between his country and the U.S., such as when Germans adopted "We Shall Overcome" as a theme during the time the Berlin Wall fell. The Civil Rights movement song, he said, became a symbol of the freedom Germans enjoy from Communism.

Also, the United States' humanitarian airlift efforts in 1948, during the cold war blockade by the Soviet Union, saved Berlin's freedom, paving the way for the city to again be the capital of a united and free Germany.

"These two countries are friends forever," he said, noting the presence of the U.S. and German flags on the chapel stage.

Gorgens doesn't look for a "United States of Europe" anytime soon, citing the diversity of languages and the rich individual histories of the 27 countries in the European Union.

On other topics, he said he doesn't expect Russia to become a member of the EU, and noted the "double set of challenges" posed by emigration in his country. While Germany needs good engineers from India and intellectual talent from other countries, the arrival of people from troubled areas is another issue.

"The question is how to regulate the influx, and not have thousands of poverty stricken refugees," he said.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.