Mayor Mike Bell speaks with Dana Holding Corp.’s Brian Cheadle, director of global business development, who shows Dana’s fuel cell technology.
HANNOVER, Germany — In the midst of industrial robotic arms, rotating model wind turbines, various running engine parts, and all manner of technologies, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell declared a guarded success on Thursday after hours of meetings at the world’s biggest technology fair.
Like he did several times in China, the mayor set out with the help of a consultant familiar with the local landscape, hoping to forge relationships that could eventually translate into jobs in Toledo.
Mr. Bell said he and his team working in Germany this week at Hannover Messe might have piqued the interest of at least three companies that operate in the steel, renewable energy, and technology industries.
“There was a lot of interest in North America and when we said where we are, they thought it to be a good thing,” Mr. Bell said. “One company was looking at rural capacity and they had been looking in Indiana and possibly Pennsylvania and the thought of Toledo, because of where it is centered, made a lot of sense to them.”
Mr. Bell declined to identify which companies he met with since they had requested that the reporters following him in Germany stay behind during those appointments.
His first meeting was with a Korean company that produces air compressors and later, his team met with Italians.
The mayor and Paul Zito, vice president for international development for the Regional Growth Partnership, worked the fair floors — attending seven scheduled meetings throughout the day while Deputy Mayor Paul Syring and Finance Director Patrick McLean “cold-called” exhibiting companies.
“Divide and conquer,” Mr. Zito said before heading off with Mayor Bell to another meeting.
“For years, many people have seen the Hannover fair as an economic indicator,” Mr. Zito said. “If it is good, then that is good for Europe, good for the United States, and good for the world.”
Many of the 6,000 companies exhibiting in Hannover were German or elsewhere in Europe; some were from Asia.
“We are working the circuit and cold-calling any company we sense has a desire to expand their market into the Midwest and tell them the assets northwest Ohio has to offer,” said Mr. Syring, the city’s top economic development official. “Sometimes they are not familiar with Toledo, but they know New York, Detroit, and Chicago.”
Among the thousands of exhibitors, several American cities and states were stationed in a cooperative area, including a group collectively representing Cleveland, Akron, and Canton.
OBJECTEach is hoping to do the same thing Mr. Bell is attempting.
Ann Arbor was represented at the massive fair for the first time this year, said Phil Santer, senior business development manager for Ann Arbor Spark.
“It fits into what we are trying to do because we are having a foreign direct-investment emphasis over 2013, and so we are identifying a couple of different industries,” Mr. Santer said. “You have a lot of need for talent and finding the right people to do the job, and the University of Michigan is a huge asset for us in trying to do that.”
Akron, on the other hand, has been at the fair for several years. Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner attended the Hannover trade fair as part of a trip to Germany in 1999.
Connecticut; Pennsylvania; Orlando, Fla.; Chicago; Anderson, Ind.; Wichita, and Milwaukee are among other American states and cities at the fair.
Paul Zito, vice president for international development for the Regional Growth Partnership, talks strategy with Mayor Mike Bell near the Volkswagen display.
Mr. Bell said he wasn't surprised cities like Akron have been going to Hannover for years and admitted Toledo should have been investing in the convention three decades ago.
“If I am allowed to continue as mayor, I think the next progressive move” would be setting up a booth “because we are competing against those cities,” Mr. Bell said.
Some companies Mr. Bell and Mr. Zito sought out were interested in Toledo’s access to rail and the port, the pair said.
“For some of them, it was the transportation possibilities, because once we told them we could bring in the international freight on our ships, they got excited about that and they thought it could be very viable to their company,” he said.
Mr. Bell, after taking a moment to admire an electric sports car, hustled to a meeting.
Elsewhere in the fair, companies like Germany’s Kuka, a manufacturer of industrial robots that are used in the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant, exhibited in a two-story display that included dozens of massive robotic arms swaying and moving like a team of synchronized swimmers.
The Viessmann Group, a manufacturer of heating systems, displayed fuel-cell products, but it also had a hard-to-understand display on “heating with ice.” Mr. McLean investigated the company out of curiosity about its 20-foot tower that had massive doughnut-shaped pieces of ice.
He left without an answer when he couldn’t find an English speaker and Mr. Zito, who was Toledo’s translator, was in another meeting.
Later in the day, the mayor, Mr. Zito, Mr. Syring, and Mr. McLean stopped by the booth operated by Dana Holding Corp. of Maumee
Brian Cheadle, director of global business development for Dana, said he was pleased the mayor and his team came to talk with them.
Dana has displayed at the fair for 10 years, Mr. Cheadle said.
“Hannover Messe is an international fair so we get people from all over the world,” he said. “We look for the engineers of potential customers who are looking for solutions to their needs and show them what we have here.”
Dana used the fair to announce a newly developed metallic bipolar plate, a part used in fuel cells. The company expects to sell millions of the product every year for use in vehicle engines.
Mr. Cheadle echoed the mayor when he said that the event is about building relationships. Unlike the mayor, whose intent is attracting new businesses to Toledo, Dana is looking to draw customers to its global operation in Maumee, but still inside a joint economic development zone with Toledo.
Dana has used the Hannover venue in recent years to showcase its fuel-cell technology and development.
“It is a new market. It’s rapidly evolving. We are going to have fuel-cell cars in a few years,” Mr. Cheadle said.
Fuel-cell technology was one industry displayed at the massive fair. It also included companies showing robots, heavy machinery, industrial automation, energy and wind power, mobile technology, industrial supply, green technology, and research and development.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.
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