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Why Hall business leaders will visit headquarters of 7 companies in Germany
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Trent Robertson paints a compressor at Bitzer on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce plans to build on its relationship with Germany with a trip visiting the headquarters of companies with plants in Hall county, one of those being Bitzer. - photo by Austin Steele

A local business delegation journeyed to Japan a couple of years ago to foster relations with companies having a Hall County presence.

It was such a hit that officials figured one was due with Hall’s largest foreign investor, Germany.

“We thought (a trip) would be extremely important because they’re over here a little more frequently,” said Perry Barnett, a Gainesville CPA who will be part of a nine-member group traveling there this week.

“We need to go over there and just tell them thank you for their support and what they’ve done in Hall County.”

Germany far outpaces other countries in its representation in Hall, with 16 companies, including some with several facilities, such as ZF. Japan comes in at a distant second with five, while most other countries outside the U.S. have one or two plants here.

Global presence

Foreign industrial representation in Hall County:

  • Germany: 16

  • Japan: 5

  • Italy: 3

  • Netherlands: 3

  • Brazil: 2

  • Korea: 2

  • Mexico: 2

  • Sweden: 2

  • Canada: 1

  • Czech Republic: 1

  • Iceland: 1

  • Norway: 1

  • Switzerland: 1

  • Taiwan: 1

  • Turkey: 1

Source: Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce

A big draw for companies is that Hall is already a manufacturing hub in Georgia, and Germany especially is focused on precision manufacturing, said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Germany, with a reputation for quality engineering, is building companies locally that have “low tolerances” for products that may come under scrutiny as part of warranties, such as car parts.

“If it’s not right, it’s probably going to be recalled,” said Evans, who is also part of the delegation.

Several of those companies deal in the automotive industry, such as ZF and IMS Gear.

The Hall delegation includes several other local business leaders: Brian Daniel, president of Carroll Daniel Construction; Jimbo Floyd, vice president with Turner Wood & Smith Insurance; David Lee, district manager for Jackson EMC; Tim McDonald, executive vice president at Lanier Technical College; and Brian Rochester, executive president of engineering firm Rochester & Associates.

Also joining the group are Sergio Domingues and Ellen Kraft of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

The group will visit the headquarters of ZF, IMS Gear, Bitzer, Elringklinger, Barbe, Boehringer and Ingleheim. Delegates will step across the border into Eindhoven, Netherlands, to visit the headquarters of VDL Groep, which has started a company in Hall specializing in metal and metal sheet processing, robotic welding and assembly.

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Shane Sapp assembles compressors at Bitzer on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce plans to build on its relationship with Germany with a trip visiting the headquarters of companies with plants in Hall County, one of those being Bitzer. - photo by Austin Steele

“We’re looking to deepen the relationships that we already have and bring exposure of Hall County to new people,” said Barnett, a former Greater Hall Chamber chairman. “They may have heard about (Hall) from companies doing business over here, but the ability to meet with them one-on-one, in my experience, goes a very long way.”

Of the companies the group will visit, ZF particularly has been active in Hall lately, with a planned $40 million-plus expansion at its 1261 Palmour Drive facility.

ZF is adding three new assembly lines, an effort that is projected to create about 60 new jobs. Most of the hiring will start in early 2019.

The new lines are part of an overall reorganization of ZF’s four Gainesville plants, including moving wind turbine production at the 1925 New Harvest Road plant to plants in Europe, India and China “in response to changing wind power product market conditions,” spokesman Gary Mason has said.

“We look forward to hosting the Hall County and chamber representatives at the ZF Headquarters” in Friedrichshafen in southern Germany, Mason said.

He added that local plant manager Brandon Loftus will accompany the group on its trip.

“One highlight will be providing an overview of the ZF apprenticeship process,” Mason said.

Hall County and the chamber “have been great partners with ZF, as the company has continually expanded its presence in the Gainesville area,” Mason said in an emailed statement.

“The company has appreciated all of the support from the county, city and the chamber in helping to make this a great place for our employees to live and work.”

Bitzer at 4080 Enterprise Way in Oakwood is another German company that’s been growing in Hall.

The 210-employee plant, which makes compressors for commercial and industrial refrigeration systems, opened a plant in 2001 and is Bitzer’s North American headquarters. It opened a new 95,000-square-foot plant in 2013.

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Compressors are prepared to be packaged at Bitzer on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Plant officials travel to Germany and other countries occasionally, and German headquarters representatives also visit the Oakwood location a few times a year, plant manager Mike Zeiler said.

“They want to make sure we operate in parallel with how they operate in Germany,” he said. “I think they do a good job of making sure the strategies are the same.”

Zeiler said he thinks the chamber’s trip “will help relationships overall … and inform them of the opportunities in the state and Hall County.”

He cited a planned Hall County inland port, which would help move cargo to and from the port in Savannah, as an example of information to share with the Germans. The inland port could open in 2021.

“That’s certainly a big draw for them,” Zeiler said.

Simone Bauknecht, executive assistant to the president at Bitzer, is a German employee at Bitzer, where she also serves as the plant’s marketing and event specialist.

“It’s been a really good experience and a big learning curve,” said Bauknecht of her U.S. experience.

She has been with Bitzer since 2011 and at the Oakwood plant since 2012.

“I’m in touch with our headquarters almost on a daily basis, and I’m the person people come to if there’s a translation issue,” she said.

Outside of work, living here has been great.

“North Georgia is an amazing place,” Bauknecht said.

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Employees work at Bitzer on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele