Business service providers: key partners to SME business

B2B day in the north German region of Oldenburger Münsterland

Several hundred business service providers are based in the region of Oldenburger Münsterland in the Federal state of Lower Saxony. Their focus spans from automation technology to temporary personnel services. They are crucial partners to local businesses and thus central to the success of the regional economy. A business-to-business day on April 26, in Emstek took a detailed look at the services offered in Oldenburger Münsterland. The aim of the event: to promote networking between service providers and small and mediumsized businesses in the area. The event was organized by the Oldenburger Münsterland Steinbeis Transfer Center.

Tight cost control is a key success factor for the long-term existence and economic success of medium-sized enterprises. To manage costs efficiently, the organization has to be kept lean, and procedures in administration and production have to run like clockwork. Tasks beyond the activities considered core to a business, or tasks only carried out infrequently, can thus only be allocated limited resources in terms of specialist expertise or equipment. Unlike larger companies, which can afford to have specialist departments to fulfill “auxiliary” processes, medium-sized enterprises typically have to rely on business service providers. These third-party companies are expected to be quick, to know their business, and to provide inexpensive input.

Over the past few decades, the region of Oldenburger Münsterland – the area of northwest Germany covered by the Oldenburger Münsterland Steinbeis Transfer Center (TZOM) – has witnessed a significant concentration of business service providers setting up their companies around the growing number of medium-sized enterprises in the area. These service providers are making a significant contribution to the success of the local economy. Their facilities and skills base are closely geared to the needs of local companies, but the more specialist their service offering, the more restricted the scope of potential demand tends to be. To make proper use of human and technical resources, and move forward as a business (and thus stay viable as a business), many service providers have to gradually extend their area of operation and their portfolio of services. Increasingly, doing business in the heavily industrialized Ruhr Valley, Berlin, or even southern Germany is no longer the exception but the rule.

Slowly but surely, this is leading to a watering down of the competitive advantage gained through specialization and geographical proximity. Coming in the opposite direction, service providers from other parts of Germany are now being hired in Oldenburger Münsterland. Free competition is the way forward and it is important, but it only stands to reason that that local service providers should at least have a home advantage – they have many years of industry experience, they know the regional idiosyncrasies, and, after all, they are practically on the doorstep!

Hermann Blanke, who heads up the TZOM, has been working on technology transfer in the region for over two decades and is involved in hundreds of meetings with local companies each year. Commenting on the situation, he says: “It defies all logic why, for example, a company from Bavaria should win a contract to install a new computer system while none of the local suppliers are even invited to tender. In all probability, the actual services on offer are not well known enough.”

As a result, for the first time, a number of key players in the area have undertaken to form a consortium to showcase the wide variety of highstandard business service providers in Oldenburger Münsterland and speak with a common voice. The aim is to raise their profile among manufacturing companies, the manual trades, and agricultural businesses. Overall, the goal is to foster more networking between businesses in the region. Service providers and local companies should talk to one another, get to know each other, and compare notes on business requirements and actual offerings. In the long term, this should solidify and build added value, know-how, and employment opportunities in the area. The initiative, which has been called the Business Offensive Oldenburger Münsterland, or boom for short, is being backed by the economic development departments of the district of Cloppenburg and Vechta, the three big business zones in the area (c-Port, ecopark, and Niedersachsenpark), the not-for-profit Oldenburger Münsterland association, and the Oldenburger Münsterland Steinbeis Transfer Center. The initiative is also receiving funding from the regional savings bank Landessparkasse zu Oldenburg (LzO).

As part of the initiative, the project partners were organizing a largescale B2B event on Friday, April 26, 2013. The venue for the event was the ecopark near Emstek just off the A1 autobahn (nicknamed the Hansa Line by locals). The day included a services trade show, a regional congress and an evening event. A variety of business service providers from the Oldenburger Münsterland region showcased their portfolio to industry specialists and answer questions. There was a strong turnout among people working in purchasing and sales, as well as CTOs and commercial officers, business owners, and CEOs of local companies and agricultural businesses. The aim was to accelerate the process of forging regional business contacts and make networking more efficient. In the afternoon there was a congress on “sustainability.” A number of leading figures from the worlds of business and science gave talks outlining their stance on the meaning of sustainable economies in environmental, economic, and social terms. These were followed by Q&A sessions to hear the opinions of the audience and their questions. At the top-rate evening event, exhibitors and visitors had another opportunity to engage in conversation, meet acquaintances, and make new friends. There was also a supporting program and premium catering arrangements. The event was highly entertaining and very congenial.

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