June 3, 2012 at 1:10 am 1 comment

In the past, when thinking about Germany, industry and a healthy economy came to mind. Here in Gelsenkirchen, we developed a greater understanding of the impact industry, mining, and hard work had on the German economy and on its people. The impact of steel, textile factories, automotive industry, and coal mining is obvious to all—it’s reflected in the architecture, in its arts and in its geography throughout the region. But that was then. Now, the economic and cultural landscape in this region of Germany is undergoing significant change. Industry leaders have downsized or left this area altogether leaving economic uncertainty and unemployment in their wake as they search for the highest profits possible in the global economy.Thanks to the RC of Gelsenkirchen, we were privileged to glimpse a little of Germany’s future. Smaller, mid-sized businesses are emerging and are gaining a foothold in the new economy. While these newer companies cannot begin to employ the tens of thousands of workers losing employment to industry relocations or closures, they represent new possibilities. Many of these businesses are developing/expanding niche markets and/or utilize specialized technological know-how with a nod to Germany’s history of excellence in both design and product reliability.

Our GSE team spent a morning visiting Prunte Bakery, a 6th generation, family owned operation that produces 20 tons of fresh rye grain breads (such as pumpernickel) daily. Prunte Bakery has a niche market stemming from a lengthy history within the region where its people enjoy the nutty flavor of whole grain rye breads. The factory/production site is a clean, modern facility that utilizes a range of new technologies and provides employment to 50-60 staff members. While Prunte Bakery is expanding its foreign market, primarily into the EU, Mr. Thomas Gill believes the company’s future relies on name recognition and the regional niche market.

Later we visited Apostore, and met with Jurgen Gessner, innovator and businessman who developed a robot driven pharmaceutical delivery system. The robotic delivery system was fascinating. A scanning system guides the stocking of the shelves and the robot locates a storage place and then the pharmacist keys in the prescription and the robot locates the item(s) and drops them onto a delivery system (conveyer belts or a gravity driven chute system) and this is all accomplished in short order. While the robot is working, the pharmacist is available to answer patient questions or she can take the opportunity to upsell. I do believe Costco management ought to look at this innovative option as their response time for filling prescriptions can span a whole day during peak periods! Apostore’s successes lie in their niche market, time/labour saving technologies, and in the pharmacy systems common to much of the E.U. While Apostore is a thriving enterprise and it provides employment, it too is a mid-sized company that relies primarily on relatively small number of highly specialized employees.

Our next stop was Zoom, the local zoo. Facility renovations, in the tens of millions of Euros, were completed in 2010 but habitats are constantly being upgraded. Organized into three main regional themes (Alaska, Asia, and Africa) the zoo provides minimal barriers for viewing animals in habitats that provides animals with space, landscape and activities to keep them alive and thriving while in captivity. Zoom has two veterinarians and employs about 80 zookeepers as well as a whole host of other staff who provide services to the animals, caged and visiting alike. Corporate investment into tourist facilities such as Zoom (the Red Dot Design Museum and Zolverein heritage site) signify the hope business and political leaders here have for the region an in its people.

Companies such as Prunte Bakery, Apostore, and Zoom are providing Gelsenkirchen economic opportunities and point the way towards a changing “industrial” future for the region. But business leaders we have met acknowledge that the opportunities offered by mid-sized, niche market and highly technical companies cannot hope to employ the vast majority of displaced workers—a number that appears to be steadily increasing (regional unemployment is ~19% while Germany’s unemployment rate is closer to 6%), and they wonder what the future will hold for the region and for Germany.

Given what we have learned, it is likely that Germany innovation and ingenuity will prevail!

Marie at Prunte Bakery, Gelsenkirchen

Marie at ApoStore, Gelsenkirchen

GSE Team @ Red Dot Museum of Design

GSE Team @ Zoom, Gelsenkirchen




Entry filed under: Team Blog.

Education Gelsenkirchen Style! Good-Bye & Thank You Gelsenkirchen!

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. billrobson1  |  June 3, 2012 at 7:20 am

    I am so pleased that you are all enjoying your wonderful experience. I met the DG from your host District yesterday at conference. He is looking forward to seeing you all at his conference.


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