It is often difficult to strike the right balance between the need for fast-moving companies to innovate and the requirements laid down by local politicians, who – some managers may tell you – fail to look at the long-term perspective and are clearly inflexible, thwarting companies’ efforts to exploit their full potential to innovate. It doesn’t have to be that way, as demonstrated by a successful project at Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center in Villingen-Schwenningen. Wolfgang Müller and his team have been working for several months with MCAT GmbH on a relocation from Constance to Donaueschingen.
MCAT had been looking for a suitable location for a long time, as part of the life sciences, polymer and organic chemistry firm’s drive to build momentum and expand, something that was no longer possible at its premises in Constance. Following a strategic review, an area not far from Lake Constance became the focus of attention: a district in the eastern Black Forest called Schwarzwald-Baar. Not only does it offer an excellent transportation network, it lies in a favorably central location between the university cities of Freiburg, Constance and Stuttgart, in keeping with the visionary expectations of innovative companies. This will make it possible to forge ahead step by step with research into chemical specialties in new and improved laboratories. The company is also planning to fundamentally expand its services, among other things, by carrying out analytical measurements and experiments in its own analytics lab. These will be promoted heavily throughout the area, since MCAT not only uses standard analytical instruments such as a melting point apparatus and refractometers, but also HPLC devices. One particularly innovative system the firm offers, which is thus a mainstay of its technology base, is a 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance scanner. This can be used to determine the purity of a myriad of materials.
Another key motivation for resettling in Donaueschingen was the frequent contact with business partners and the desire to share research insights more directly. MCAT solutions are extremely important to the medical technology business cluster, which is highly focused and spans a large number of companies. One essential realization, not long after Steinbeis started working with MCAT, is best summed up by Wolfgang Müller: “Lots of key players will benefit in the long term from MCAT setting up its business next door in the Schwarzwald-Baar area.” As talks progressed between Wolfgang Müller and MCAT’s founder and managing director Dr. Markus Ringwald, they went through a variety of scenarios. “The Black Forest area is not just important for the future of our company, but it’s also the ideal location for the families of our employees. This was one of the insights derived from the meetings with Steinbeis,” adds Ringwald.
Going ahead with the move was made a lot easier for MCAT by a shift in thinking in state policy. In 2014, the state of Baden-Württemberg set up a funding project called Spitze auf dem Land! (“The Best in the Countryside”). Aimed at technology leaders in Baden-Württemberg, it was initiated by the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Consumer Protection to safeguard and improve the innovative power of rural areas. The regional state government provides small and medium-sized enterprises with financial support for the innovation programs in order to encourage firms to stay or settle in Baden-Württemberg.
Before any funding is awarded, the company applying for support has to provide suitable evidence, which was where the professional support of the Steinbeis experts came in with a business plan. This included a detailed analysis that clearly showed, “that this company had to come here ... [and] ... it would be a significant gain for the local infrastructure,” underscores Müller. The experts from Villingen-Schwenningen spearheaded the application process and provided expert advice as required.
Looking to the future, an aspect reflected by the design of the business premises in Donaueschingen, everyone involved in the project agrees on one thing. “Sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental production are our guiding principles,” highlights Ringwald, confirming that his company was practically predestined to benefit from the recently introduced state funding program. The local atmosphere also played an essential role. From the outset, Ringwald felt like a welcome visitor to Donaueschingen. This positive perception is also confirmed by Josef Bea, who works for the local authority: “It was self-evident for all of the local administration departments that were involved that the company should be shown how to relocate in Donaueschingen so we could walk the path ahead together. It was particularly pleasing to see the results of our joint efforts and get funding from the ‘Spitze auf dem Land’ program; it was the icing on the cake.”
Aside from their strategic interests of a commercial nature, Ringwald, Müller and representatives of the city of Donaueschingen also share common values relating to infrastructure priorities. “People and the economy are inseparable and they will remain that way,” emphasizes Müller, also pointing to the entrepreneurial responsibility that Ringwald and his colleagues are happy to bear, for example with their plans to keep growing and thus create new jobs and provide a future for people living in the area. Local measures aimed at shaping the future are not just about existential issues, however. More and more thought goes into the work-life balance in strategic planning. As Bea highlights, it is the stated aim of the Donaueschingen authorities is to heighten such thinking: “By optimizing location factors, the town makes an important contribution in this respect. A major share of fees is invested every year in education, cultural events, sports, and leisure activities.” Making rural areas more attractive is a key instrument for Donaueschingen in safeguarding the future.
Urban areas have an almost magnetic appeal for young people, but rural areas also have some major advantages to offer. Explaining the mechanics of the real estate market, Dr. Magnus Schmidt, a senior employee at MCAT, says, “In my family, we’d always wanted to have our own house but in Constance that would have remained wishful thinking. We’re already enjoying the feeling of owning our own house in Donaueschingen. With the company also moving here now, this will be a huge improvement in our quality of life as I won’t have to drive so far to work.”
When companies settle in or relocate to an area, it is always a complex issue that depends on many factors, so a flexible outlook and openness make a big difference to innovation. To achieve objectives as planned, it is also necessary for knowledge to be pooled and for networks with lots of different people in them to pull together. This was demonstrated clearly by MCAT’s move to Donaueschingen. Markus Ringwald’s plans not only benefitted from the professional advice provided by Steinbeis, but also from change in state policy and the open attitude of the Donaueschingen authorities, which was very different in other communities. Summarizing the innovation process, Müller says, “It takes open dialog between everyone involved in a partnership of equals to reconcile all key aspects and define common areas.” When different parties are willing to compromise, despite their differing interests, it takes careful negotiation. It’s the only way to safeguard and shape the future – innovations in business also need innovation on an emotional level.