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Working in Elgin’s favor


Here’s a list of German or German-American businesses with offices in Elgin:

Arburg: machinery manufacturer

Dunkermotoren: motor-maker

Geka Brush: maker of mascara brushes

Harting Inc. of North America: connectors and cable assemblies

Helukabel USA Inc.: wire and cable manufacturer

Mavea: commercial water treatment and filtration

Melitta: coffee and coffee-making equipment

Morton Salt/AK & S Group

Plasmatreat of North America: maker of high-tech equipment for cleaning plastic and metal surfaces

Reis Robotics USA: industrial robots

Schleifring Medical Systems: a partner with GE; among its products are medical slip ring systems and tomography equipment

Siemens: Flender (a maker of components for power transmission equipment) and Winergy (a wind power turbine maker) holdings

Sonderhoff US: supplier for polymer sealing materials, engineering and services

Schwanog: tooling systems

Weishaupt America Inc.: a maker of commercial furnace burners

Wurth Electronics Midcom: a maker of transformers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

ELGIN — Elgin is named after a town in Scotland. But in recent years, the city’s business community has taken a broader global turn.

As but one example, “The City in the Suburbs” now is home to offices for 16 German or German-American companies, with about half of those coming here in the last five years.

In fact, Elgin’s motto gives a clue to one of the big reasons those firms are here.

“The Germans like it here, with the proximity to the interstate, O’Hare airport, the room for growth and the core of services,” said JoAnne McLeod, executive assistant at Harting Inc. of North America.

Harting has an office along Bowes Road on the city’s southwest side and has been in Elgin since the early 1990s, McLeod said. Not too far from its building is Schleifring Medical Systems, which has been at its Crispin Drive office since 2001.

Schleifring general manager Joann Reynolds agreed that Elgin’s location makes it a big draw for German-American firms. Commercial and housing growth along the Randall Road corridor have helped, too, bringing restaurants and shopping as well as white-collar workers to the area, not to mention a widened road that makes it easier to travel up and down the Fox Valley. And having the big city east of Elgin, helps, too.

The Germans “love Chicago,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds serves on the board for the Elgin Symphony and noted all that Elgin and Chicago have to offer, the deep German roots throughout the metro area, and the Midwestern work ethic, which is similar to theirs.

According to Michael O’Kelley, vice president of economic development for the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce, what’s also helping attract German firms to Elgin in recent years has been an exchange rate favoring the euro over the dollar. O’Kelley noted that in the last seven to eight years, 80 percent of foreign direct investment in the United States — which is investment in productive assets — has come from Europe, particularly the Germans and the French.

More growth

The German multinational firms employ an estimated 718 people at their Elgin offices, O’Kelley said. And “what is very interesting is that some of the German firms have only sales/marketing sites here, with manufacturing to follow as they grow business here,” he said.

Thus, the EACC actively pursues bringing such companies to Elgin. It is working with the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACCoM) not only to draw new businesses to town but also to help those here network and bring those already in Elgin more into the community.

That effort already has led to two meetings involving the two chambers and the German companies in Elgin, with another being planned for early 2011. At the last session, Elgin Community College President David Sam talked about how the college can help the businesses by offering classes or training sessions to help build specific job skills.

Harting president and CEO Rolf Meyer will be on a panel at the GACCoM’s annual economic forum in Rosemont on Jan. 27, said Jayne Riemer-Chishty, GACCoM’s director of membership and chamber development. Riemer-Chishty noted that while there are other pockets of German businesses in the Midwest, what’s unique about Elgin is having the number it does within a relatively short distance of each other. With support built between the companies and chambers, Elgin is among the towns she mentions when other companies are looking to locate an office in the U.S., she said.

Meyer noted that Elgin’s already-strong industrial base helps attract firms to the area, as does the city’s willingness to work with companies looking to set up shop here.

O’Kelley noted that German companies are used to turning to chambers of commerce back home, so working with Elgin’s is a natural fit. The chamber has let it be known that the city and the chamber will do what they can to bring companies to town and will work with firms to address issues they may have, he said.

In some cases, that means helping navigate the level of regulation they find in the United States, from federal laws to something as local as a sign ordinance, O’Kelley said.

Both McLeod and Reynolds noted that German companies like to work with each other. Having other firms here can help in getting advice for where to turn for ancillary services — from hiring law firms to where to hold a lunch meeting.

Boding well for Elgin is that German-American businesses are optimistic about next year and beyond.

According to a survey conducted for the German American Chambers of Commerce released in November, 91 percent of respondents expect positive growth for their operations, 63 percent expect the U.S. economy to pick up, and 69 percent plan to add new employees.

With the success in drawing German companies to town, O’Kelley said he is exploring setting up a similar nucleus of Japanese firms in Elgin.

As for the city’s Scottish name, he recently gave a tour of potential locations to representatives of a company from Scotland that might open an office here, too.

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