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This is why Ortenau is a particularly economically strong region

This is why Ortenau is a particularly economically strong region

The eighth episode of our series “All the best, Ortenaukreis” is about opportunities and obstacles for the economy. Although companies have many strenghts, the infrastructure is in need of improvement. The Ortenau however, is a strong industrial location.

The Ortenau district has various characteristics that set it apart from other regions. The landscape is characterized by the Black Forest heights and the Rhine plain. With an area of 1861 square kilometers, it is the largest district in Baden-Württemberg. Located directly on the border with France, the exchange with the neighboring country – both in terms of economic activity and the workforce – is significantly stronger than in other areas. And it is the most industrialized district on the Upper Rhine. At the same time, it is characterized by the fact that it has five large district towns, but not an all-dominant metropolis.

Stable export ratio

All of this has an impact on economic strength and the economic structure. Large and globally active companies are not only to be found in one central location, but in Hornberg as well as in the port of Kehl, in Offenburg as well as in Oberkirch, Schwanau and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the international connections are very strong. As Dominik Fehringer, Managing Director of the Offenburg-based business development organization Nectanet, emphasizes, the export rate is stable at 41 percent and is therefore high. Fehringer also considers Ortenau to be a “region of world market leaders”. However, these can sometimes be found in quite remote locations. According to Fehringer, another characteristic is that the economic structure is characterized by owner-managed companies.

Manufacturing industry has dominant position

Industry has a dominant position in the Ortenau district – especially the manufacturing sector. A good 32 percent of those employed in the private sector work in the latter industry, according to a publication by “Adeus”, the urban development and planning agency for the Strasbourg conurbation, published at the beginning of 2021. That is 1.6 times more than in the Grand Est region (Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne) and almost four times as much as in the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg (the city of Strasbourg and 32 surrounding municipalities). The focal points in this area in Ortenau are machine tool construction and metal processing. A total of around 60,000 people are employed in the manufacturing industry.

Tourism is of great importance

The service sector is also of enormous importance. According to the Southern Upper Rhine Chamber of Industry and Commerce, almost 9800 people are employed in the “public administration” and “social security” sectors in the district alone (figures from the end of June 2021). There are 25,500 in health and social services and almost 35,000 in other services. Tourism is not just a nice-weather industry, but is of great economic importance with more than 500 businesses across the district. According to the district administration, the Ortenau district ranks second among all districts in the Black Forest with almost 4.2 million overnight stays per year. Among the strong sectors is the construction industry with its more than 350 companies (figures from June 2021).

Like everywhere else, the economy in Ortenau has had to overcome many challenges due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Nectanet CEO Dominik Fehringer also says: “The crises of recent years have hit companies hard.” However, entrepreneurs in Ortenau do not belong to the “breed of whiners”. That’s why the hardships are perhaps sometimes not noticed so much in public. “But when external factors such as the pandemic and wars come up against an increasingly difficult overall situation within Germany, the challenges go beyond the pain threshold.” This applies, for example, to the issues of energy, labor shortages, excessive bureaucracy and an “infrastructure in great need of investment”. According to Fehringer, the economy does not respond positively when the state is under pressure to act but is slow to react.

Lack of commercial space

What locational advantages does the Ortenau economy have to master the challenges? What obstacles are slowing down development? As the Strasbourg “Adeus” agency points out after discussions with stakeholders in the region, the good connection to the European transport corridors has a generally positive effect. The A5 highway, which has four lanes at least from the north to Offenburg, the Rhine Valley railroad, the east-west connection via the B 28 federal highway and the connection to the B 33 as well as the two inland ports of Kehl and Strasbourg offer good conditions for this. According to this publication, however, the weak points are bottlenecks in the transport infrastructure in the region itself and a lack of commercial space, particularly in the higher areas of the Black Forest. Another plus: a diversified economic structure with companies of very different sizes makes the Ortenau district less susceptible to crises than other regions, according to the “Adeus” publication. The manufacturing industry is mainly represented by family-run SMEs with a strong sense of social responsibility. Last but not least, a high quality of life and the good local supply of services also make the region attractive for citizens. The region is also regarded as a high-quality vacation destination.

False external perception

However, as in other parts of Germany, there is a shortage of labor in some sectors. Numerous efforts are being made by chambers, companies and other institutions to make Ortenau an attractive place to work and train for people from France. Of course, this is not always successful, which is partly due to language barriers and the different working cultures and educational backgrounds. According to “Adeus”, those involved also explain that the Ortenau is often perceived from the outside as a rural area and not as an important industrial location. Offenburg, as a regional center and the largest city in the district, does not have the reputation of a true regional metropolis like Freiburg or Karlsruhe. What can be done to improve the situation? “The best way to promote the economy is to let it do so,” says Fehringer. Above all, it is important to reduce bureaucratic hurdles, the state must invest quickly and increasingly in infrastructure and ensure affordable energy for companies. Nectanet also contributes to “maintaining the region as an environment worth living in” with numerous activities, says Fehringer. The creation of closer links with Strasbourg could also help the Ortenau economy – and not just to attract workers. The district could benefit from the service companies, the university and the research laboratories located in Strasbourg, although there are also high-profile educational and research institutions here with the universities in Offenburg and Kehl. Conversely, Strasbourg could also rely on the efficient structure of the Ortenau district.

An article by the Mittelbadische Presse / Reinhard Reck.