American manufacturing in the spotlight

Partner Country status lets U.S. trumpet its industrial leadership.


The strong connection between the U.S. and German manufacturing sectors will be on display at Hannover Messe 2016 starting April 24. Images: Courtesy Hannover MesseAmerican manufacturing is ready for its close-up on the world's largest industrial stage in Hannover, Germany.

It leads the world in manufacturing output and helped lead the U.S. economy out of recession—so it is a well-earned celebration of U.S. manufacturing that will begin April 24 when President Barack Obama delivers the keynote at Hannover Messe's opening ceremony. The designation of the United States as the 2016 Partner Country at Hannover Messe will bring the largest-ever U.S. contingent to the world's largest industrial trade show. It's an effort to build bridges for U.S. companies looking to expand into Europe and beyond, as well as a way for global manufacturers to learn more about the U.S. manufacturing innovations.

The weeklong event is expected to draw more than 200,000 attendees, and the presence of President Obama has added an air of excitement to this year's festivities. The real work at Hannover Messe for U.S. manufacturing leaders will occur in meetings at the U.S. Investment Pavilion and among the state economic development departments, industry leaders and more than 350 U.S. companies making the journey to Hannover Messe.

"The United States is home to the most innovative and forward-thinking companies in the world. But in today's global economy, it is not enough to simply be the best. We must also let the world know that America is open for business," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. "Hannover Messe is a unique opportunity for American companies to showcase their products and capabilities to thousands of global advanced-manufacturing representatives."

"Hannover Messe is a perfect platform for small to midsized manufacturers looking to reach potential global buyers, partners and investors," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Operations for the Department of Commerce Antwaun Griffin. "This is a great show to connect to the latest digital manufacturing trends, and to meet some of the strongest companies and innovators in the United States and around the world."

Going global

At the press preview for Hannover Messe 2016 in January, fair officials and German industry leaders were thrilled with the prospect of the U.S. as the Partner Country, and with the attendance of the President. In the 70 years since Hannover Messe was first staged in 1947, this will be the first time the United States will be the Partner Country.

"The key question over the last six months had been, 'Is he coming, or isn't he?' It was actually fantastic news," said Jochen Köckler, the member of the managing board of Deutsche Messe AG responsible for Hannover Messe, at the press preview. "It also is fantastic for the international character of Hannover Messe. We've been waiting 70 years to welcome the U.S. as Partner Country."

U.S. Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson also addressed the preview and said the excitement over the U.S. status at Hannover Messe was mutual. "The United States is honored to be the Partner Country for the 2016 Hannover Messe, and I know that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and our boss, President Obama, are excited to be coming here in late April," Emerson told more than 100 media members from around the world who attended the preview.

Emerson touted the expanded U.S. presence at Hannover Messe, including representatives from 40 state and regional economic development groups at the U.S. Investment Pavilion in Hall 3 on the fairgrounds.

Emerson also focused on the existing cooperation between Germany and the United States around trade issues. "As you may know, last year the United States became Germany's largest customer; and Germany is America's largest trading partner in Europe." The ambassador said. "In other words, Germany and the United States have a huge stake in the health and vitality of each other's economies. President Obama's presence illustrates how important this show will be for both the U.S. and German business communities.

"From the U.S. point of view, it offers a unique opportunity not only to showcase American innovation and ingenuity, but to strengthen the trans-Atlantic partnership at a critical juncture," Emerson added.

Trans-Atlantic partnership

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, has been a point of discussion for many years at Hannover Messe. The trade deal, which supporters say would reduce trade barriers between the U.S. and the European Union, has been stalled in Congress for more than two years.

With or without TTIP, however, there has been a steady stream of manufacturing commerce going on between the U.S. and Europe. That includes foreign direct investment on both sides of the Atlantic, something the U.S. economic development agencies from around the country hope to continue to foster.

For German-based companies, the need to not just sell to the U.S., but also to locate manufacturing on U.S. soil, has long been a strategic imperative.

As an example, Festo is an innovative manufacturing and robotics company based in Germany, but it sees a vital partner in the U.S. market.

"(Festo) has been investing in the U.S. market for more than 40 years and is a reliable partner for American enterprises, which now not only require machinery and production facilities, engineering expertise, software and supplier components for the establishment and modernization of their production locations, but above all technical education," the company said in a press release. "In these times of increasing automation, the company is thereby securing jobs and salaries as well as facilitating industrialization in Germany and America."

Festo has opened a $45 million production and logistics center in Mason, Ohio, that employs 150 workers and gives the company a distribution and manufacturing hub closer to its customers.

Major German industrial and consumer manufacturers all have significant facilities in the U.S. Siemens, for example, has more than 700 individual facilities in North America. Auto manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and BMW (a past Plant Engineering Top Plant award winner), have placed significant investments in the U.S. market.

But those investments have worked both ways. A 2014 Hannover Messe presentation on German-American trade relations noted there are about 1 million U.S. jobs dependent on German-owned companies and approximately 600,000 German jobs dependent on U.S.-owned companies.

It is the United States' reputation as a global manufacturing leader that moved Hannover Messe to pursue the U.S. as this year's Partner Country, and the U.S. delegation is doing all it can to deliver a presence that will not just last the week, but also will foster relationships for the future.

A case in point: Ohio

A decade ago, Ohio was one of the few U.S. states to send a delegation to Hannover Messe. Then-Ohio Gov. Bob Taft was interviewed by Plant Engineering at Hannover Messe in 2006, and he mentioned the importance of getting out there to tell the story of all his state had to offer.

In 2006, there was a Republican in the White House and a Democratically controlled Congress, but Taft's message was strikingly similar to the environment today. "It's concerning to hear Congress talking about controls on foreign investments in the U.S.," Taft said that year. "We have 960 foreign companies investing in Ohio. Manufacturing is one of our healthiest sectors. Our manufacturing exports are growing, and we've got a lot of jobs tied to exports. Ohio is an integral part of the world economy.

"We're feeling terrific competitive pressure," Taft added in that interview. "We have to go out and tell the story."

Today, Ohio boasts more than 2,200 foreign companies—533 from Germany alone—and more than $12 billion on research-and-development investment in the state from public and private companies. At Hannover Messe 2016, Ohio will come with another large contingent of civic, business and governmental leaders and will participate in a dozen lectures, partner events, and receptions.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and its German equivalent Industrie 4.0, is a central topic for Hannover Messe 2016. Courtesy: Hannover Messe

Embracing IIoT

What is called Industrie 4.0 in Germany and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in the U.S. is the realization of an "integrated industry." That also is the theme for Hannover Messe 2016, and Köckler said during the press preview the acceleration of that idea is driving new growth in manufacturing.

"Integrated industry is still at an early stage," he said. "I believe no other topic established itself so quickly and has had such a huge impact. We need to implement integrated industry. We get more and more excited with each year." Exhibitors, who embraced the Industrie 4.0 concept at Hannover Messe 2015, plan even more examples of application cases and product offerings to offer fair attendees. Hall 9 is the center of the Industrial Automation pavilion, and every vendor onsite in 2015 was promoting the Industrie 4.0 content, including from the Hannover Messe perspective. In 2016, that presence should be amplified as customers look to learn more about the technology.

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Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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