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DELMENHORST, Germany — Toledo Mayor Mike Bell brought his quest for foreign investors, along with his trademark swagger, to Delmenhorst on Wednesday, the first stop on a brief development mission that also includes attending a trade fair today in Hannover.
Mr. Bell walked along “Bahnhofstrasse” after arriving by train and then joined much of his delegation in Delmenhorst, which has been one of Toledo's international sister cities for more than a decade.
“This is about exposing people to something they may not know exists, a landing point in North America,” Mr. Bell said. “It all starts with trying to get leads and being able to make personal contact with people so you have a relationship to work off of.”
Mr. Bell added Europe to the places from which he is seeking direct foreign investment and jobs for Toledo. But he also wants a better quality of life and more examples of art like in Delmenhorst and other pieces he viewed beginning Saturday in Zug, Switzerland.
“The part about Zug that was sharp is they have all this garden growth on roofs and they actually had playground sets and trees on roofs. It was a great use of land,” he said. “The thing that was sharp about the mayor is that he rode his bike to work.”
Mr. Bell left Toledo on Friday for Switzerland to visit a college friend, Dave Speicher, and his son, for whom the mayor is godfather. It evolved into a pitch for Toledo to the mayor of Zug, who promised to contact Mr. Bell if he became aware of a company interested in locating in the region.
“I know some people would like for me to sit at home,” Mr. Bell said. “What we do in Toledo is we assume everyone knows who we are and where we are and they don’t. When I explained to the mayor of Zug that you can put a dot on Toledo and stretch out 500 miles and it covers 60 percent of the population of North America including Canada, he was not aware of that.”
Mr. Bell said he didn't hesitate to meet with the mayor of Zug when it was set up by Mr. Speicher.
“Any place I go, I am trying to figure out how to make it work in Toledo,” he said. “What I am really impressed with is the transit system and being able to get people around without cars.”
Mr. Bell and his group settled down Wednesday evening to enjoy one of Germany's most popular exports — beer. Today will be the first of two days at the Hannover technology fair, followed by ceremonial activities and more meetings back in Delmenhorst.
The Hannover Messe is the largest trade show in the world; it continues through Friday.
Dana Holding Corp. of Maumee used the exposure the fair provides to announce that it is one of the first companies to begin serial production of metallic bipolar plates, which the company called “a critical component for enhancing the performance of fuel-cell powered engines.”
The mayor dismissed critics of this trip, just as he did when people questioned his travels to China, Japan, and India.
“Because we live in a very, very close-minded portion of the United States, people think this is some sort of frill,” the mayor said after arriving from Switzerland. “I am on duty the whole time I am here, I am doing what I think I am supposed to do as a mayor in creating vision for a city that actually has a potential to do a lot of great things.”
Back in Toledo, councilman and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara pounced on Mr. Bell's comments from Germany, releasing a scathing statement.
“I shouldn’t have to defend the people of Toledo from our own mayor,” Mr. McNamara said. “The mayor should be serving as an ambassador for the city, not someone who ridicules us. The people of Toledo are not close-minded, we just want to see jobs created in our city.”
Much of Toledo's delegation arrived in Delmenhorst Wednesday morning after flying into nearby Bremen, a much larger city. Deputy Mayor Paul Syring, public information officer Jen Sorgenfrei, and City Finance Director Patrick McLean flew from Detroit.
Susan Miko, executive director of Toledo Sister Cities International, and Christa Luttman, a Toledoan with ties to Germany, also arrived on Wednesday.
The Mercedes-Benz Bremen plant, which produces the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, E-Class, SLK, SL, and GLK is the area’s largest private employer. More than 6 million Mercedes-Benz passenger cars have been produced in Bremen since 1978, according to the company.
"Compared to other German cities, Delmenhorst is in the same league as Toledo is compared to other American cities,” said Anke von Wittke-Grothenn, former mayor who helped create the sister city relationship with Toledo.
There are other similarities.
Like Toledo, Delmenhorst needs more people willing to live downtown, said her husband, Heinz Grothenn.
“The whole downtown area is very compact,” he said. “In Toledo, there is a problem in that there are not many people living there. You have some people going there but it is not a living area and that is similar to here.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.