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German companies build strong presence in Pittsburgh

| Friday, May 27, 2016, 10:03 p.m.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Scope International managing director Alethea Wieland, at the company's South Side office on May 27, 2016, was instrumental in the contract research company's decision to set up shop in Pittsburgh.

Scope International was interested in hiring Alethea Wieland to open the German company's first office in the United States, but she made it clear that she was a package deal.

Investing in her also meant investing in her hometown — Pittsburgh.

“They had no idea where I was coming from,” Wieland said. “Their job description was for a project manager to open an office in Virginia.”

Wieland, a Wexford resident, didn't want to work in Virginia. So, during her interview, she presented an 8-page case for why the contract research company should set up shop in Pittsburgh.

Wieland got the job, and Pittsburgh got Scope. She opened the office in the South Side last summer, and Scope became the latest German company to be attracted to Pittsburgh.

German companies have become a growing presence in the city. There are about 77 of them employing 10,500 people in the 10-county metro region, up from 70 firms with 8,600 employees a decade ago, according to Pittsburgh Regional Alliance estimates. That puts Germany at the top of the list alongside Japan and the United Kingdom for foreign investment in Pittsburgh.

German employers span a diverse array of industries in Pittsburgh, from medical equipment manufacturing (Bayer) to supermarkets (Aldi) and energy (Siemens).

Furthering the city's relationship with Deutschland has become an important part of economic development efforts to bring jobs to the region and promote Pittsburgh's international reputation, said Suzi Pegg, the Alliance's vice president of global marketing.

“I think (German companies) like the workforce here. They find it very loyal,” Pegg said. “And the workforce likes working for German companies as well. They pay well.”

Pegg said this hours before boarding a flight Thursday night for Europe, where she planned to spend a week accompanying the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on its continental tour. Her objective was to meet with German corporate executives in Brussels and Munich, then take them to symphony performances to whet their appetite for Pittsburgh's culture and, hopefully, convince them to come here.

The symphony partnership began in 2006. German IT firm Sycor set up its North American headquarters in Pittsburgh following the 2006 tour, and Pegg said it has helped generate other business leads. Pegg declined to say which companies she was meeting with, but said German manufacturers and technology companies have shown strong interest in Pittsburgh.

“If I come back with a good source of leads that we can work with for the next 12 months, I'll be happy,” Pegg said.

German immigrants played an important role in Pittsburgh's growth in the early 20th century, and there continue to be economic similarities — a historical base in manufacturing, notably in steel and coal production, as well as a growing technology sector — that continue to attract Germans to the region, Pegg said. The city's universities offer a pipeline of talent, particularly in engineering, that many German-based manufacturers have relied on to fill out their staff.

Hennecke Polyurethane Technologies is one of them. The Lawrence, Pa.-based company, which was spun off from Bayer in 2008, makes equipment used in producing polyurethane foam for mattresses and cushions.

Having an available pool of talent coming out of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has been a significant advantage for Hennecke at a time when competition for engineers is fierce, said Lutz Heidrich, director of sales for Hennecke.

But Heidrich, a native of Germany, said there is a cultural attraction to Pittsburgh, too.

“When you come from a historical city, with not the rectangular view and it's more naturally grown, it has that same feel,” he said. “I feel like this is a multicultural city where me, as a German, I feel very harbored and confident.”

There needs to be more resources dedicated to supporting these companies, said Paul Overby, the honorary consul for Germany in Pittsburgh.

Overby last year established a Pittsburgh chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce, one of 10 German chambers in the United States. It has 60 members and offers networking and business development programs.

When Pittsburgh hosted the G-20 summit in 2009, city officials hoped to showcase the city on a global stage. To further its international reputation, Pittsburgh must do more to support the growth of foreign companies here, Overby said.

“As a region, we need to compete internationally, globally,” Overby said. “And to do that, we can jump ahead faster if we bring people here and bring companies that have a global perspective.”

Scope has found plenty to like in Pittsburgh, Wieland said. Scope primarily works with medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and Wieland said three of her potential new clients are Pittsburgh companies. Her staff in Pittsburgh has expanded to 11 people, a number she expects to double by early next year.

Executives were convinced to come to Pittsburgh because of the case Wieland presented when interviewing for the job. But it was their visit to the city that sealed the deal, she said.

It was last June and happened to correspond with the Three Rivers Arts Festival. They took in the city's arts scene and stayed Downtown at the Hotel Monaco, enjoying its German biergarten. They watched the Pirates sweep the Milwaukee Brewers. They saw the skyline bloom as they entered the city through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Scope executives had come because they were sold on Wieland. They left having been sold on Pittsburgh.

“It just helped cement their good feeling,” Wieland said. “That this is like family here.”

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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