Relying on Immigrant Networks: Business Network Aachen
City of Aachen, Department of Economic Development / European Affairs
The city establishes local immigrant network to develop international economic opportunities
How does a city re-charge its economic engine and stay competitive in a globalized economy? For the city of Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia, the answer lies with its entrepreneurs, and in particular, with immigrant-run companies in knowledge-intensive sectors. Such leaders have an edge in promoting the city to networks in their executives’ countries of origin.
Aachen likes to use the phrase “Europe is here” to highlight its location in Germany on the border of Belgium and The Netherlands (known as the Euregio Maas-Rhine), as well as its historic status as home to the legendary emperor Charlemagne. Once a manufacturing hub, today the city’s economic strength lies in its high-tech sector and international status as a university research centre. In a city of approximately 260,000, representing over 150 nationalities, one in six residents is a post-secondary student, many with international ties.
Not surprisingly, a city that can attract and retain bright, young minds is also home to a growing number of international companies. One in twelve companies in Aachen is foreign-owned. The city is also seeing the emergence of a significant rise in the number of “transnational entrepreneurs.” The city wanted to tap into networks already in place where immigrant entrepreneurs have access to two or more sets of networks, in Aachen and other cities in Germany and in the country or city of their birth.
In 2010, the city began planning the Business Network Aachen with the goal of targeting innovative, growth-oriented “ethnic” companies. Its aim was to combine regional economic expansion with the integration of migrants in the city. By developing a member-driven network of entrepreneurs, executives and leaders from trade associations, public institutions and industry-related organizations, the network would stimulate the growth of business opportunities while changing public perceptions about immigrants and their contribution to the city. Funding for the project came from the city and a state grant, “KOMM-IN North Rhine-Westphalia,” which focuses on innovation in municipal integration work.
Officially launched in April 2011, the Business Network Aachen holds regular networking events as well as workshops to discuss strategies, plans and goals to develop existing and new contacts for building business opportunities. Since the emphasis is on inclusion, not all members need to have an immigrant background. They only need to be interested in strengthening Aachen as an international business location to become a member of the voluntary network. To ensure success, other prominent organizations are also involved, such as the Aachen Chamber of Commerce and the RWTH Aachen University.
“For Aachen, globalization means a great opportunity. We are an international city,” said Mayor Marcel Philipp at the launch of the Network in March 2011.
The Business Network Aachen has already achieved some significant milestones. Under its winning slogan, “International networking par excellence – made in Aachen,” the organization now has members representing 37 countries and 35 different industries and is seen as a community of “internationally-active/interested” companies. This has given entrepreneurs of all backgrounds the opportunity to break out of the usual pattern of limiting their networking to German-only circles and leverage their skills, resources and diversity to strengthen their potential on national and international economic markets.
The Business Network Aachen has sent successful trade missions to Istanbul and Bursa in Turkey, and hosted a follow-up German-Turkish Business Forum in Aachen that was co-organized with the city, the Aachen Chamber of Commerce and AGIT (Aachener Gesellschaft für Innovation und Technologietransfer), the economic development agency for ‘Technology Region Aachen’. Based on the success of its first year, the network plans to incorporate itself as an association.
As Frank Malis, the director of the Aachen Chamber of Commerce, has commented on the region’s economy: “The much-quoted ‘globalization of the economy’ is taking place right on our doorstep.”
Making it Work for You:
- Look for hidden or unexplored assets within your target group that can enhance your business objectives
- Developing an effective network requires creating value for the membership and a common set of goals
- Networking events provide opportunities for members to connect, learn and grow their businesses
- Keep the message inclusive so that all members of the business community feel welcome
For this Good Idea contact:
Winfried Kranz, Stadt Aachen Fachbereich Wirtschaftsförderung / Europäische Angelegenheiten
D-52064 Aachen , Germany,