As written earlier Saxony Economic Development Corporation (AKA Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH or in short WFS) has played a major role in facilitating the economic success of Saxony over the last twenty years. Last week 20 journalists were about to learn more about its depth. The lean thinkers amongst us would have said, "Going to the GEMBA (where the real stuff happens)":
Waiting and letting the experiences from last week settle in my mind and the business context has been more than interesting. We saw global players like BMW Plant Leipzig (H), Freiberger Compound Materials GmbH (G), rather locally embedded ones like Wätas (F), and Gerber Spitzen GmbH (E) - and were surely surprised.
Just to have a feeling what we have covered of Saxony - only a small fraction of what really is going on in the field of innovation (in various fields) here link to the route. For a visual quick glance, the following gives some feeling
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The whole trip was -in retrospect- beautifully choreographed by PR Piloten and WFS even though while being in the midst of the trip it was difficult to see the broader picture. Starting off with Eickhoff Antriebstechnik GmbH (B) with its new production plant in Klipphausen, producer of gearing for wind energy installation, steel and heat grounded everybody. Tangible things to quite familiar to the engineers amongst us. Quite contrary -concerning the weight of the products- next station was Mittweida. There we learned, in the middle of the town of a formerly racing sports car producer, at which plant location now parts of the new Airbuses are produced in ultra-light composite materials. Composite Technology Saxony, shortened to COTESA GmbH (C) was the first twist in perception. The Brandeins magazines sitting on the visitor area tables put an explanatory light on what entrepreneurial power and vision lie in the laid-back countryside.
After this rather high-tech orientated first day almost finished the day, a stitching company in the former stitch center of the world (its brand name still quite famous, "Plauener Spitze"). Gerber Spitzen GmbH (E) was our last visit for the day. 20 minds were thinking, "What might expect us there?" - Tuning in over coffee and cake, a perfect "chess move" to arise the curiosity. We heard of High Stick & High Stick+ and that stitching as a means of reinforcing material stability (with at the same time lower weight) is what the future is about. Curiousness tension rose even more. Moving on over to the production area was like coming back to the early times of Toyota when loom machines were their main business. Amazing to the machine in action, learning about loads of punch tapes in the archives - innovation is not always about technology in the first place, it is all about human creativity to be put to work. .... the future of stitching is certainly closer than we all could see that afternoon. Automotive usage just one area and as Stitch World (a special issue of Technology Review) shows.
With that experience and freed-minds, the crowd stayed at Plauen with a continuous conversation over what was seen that first day of the trip.
Next day's morning travels for about 90 min brought us to Olbernhau, a small town right in the forest. An old and authentic entrepreneurial villa invited the group, the wood framed conference room brought back some of the spirit that was famous for the time before World War II as the region was sparked by innovators (on the edge). Listening to the short presentation for some minutes in it became quite clear that Wätas (F) is just another lean-orientated "hidden champion" in Silicon Saxony. During the first minutes of the presentation it became quite clear that the lean mindset is not just brought in by Porsche Consulting (which offered support due to the fact that Wätas earned an innovation prize lately) but entrenched in an old Saxonian mindset: making more with what you have at hand (in other parts of the world, this runs under the label 'Lean Thinking').
After a rushed visit through the premises and production line, the next point of interest during the tour was Freiberger Compound Materials GmbH (G) in Freiberg - actually where Silicon Saxony was sort of kickstarted and originated some 50 years ago almost on the date. The two days should close with a visit to the newest BMW plant in Leipzig (H) also visiting their logistics partner Kühne & Nagel (H). There we not only saw what economic "side-"effects a major player in the automotive arena has initiated in terms of economic growth of the region and the uprise of new supporting industries close by. Quite a few suppliers of complex car parts are based around the production area in the close vicinity even based on the premises.
Wrapping up, these two days enabled all participants to learn about a wide range of innovative companies in Saxony, which Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH has helped in one or the other way to make the setup a successful one. As we could see innovation comes from the most unexpected sidelines from fields where a competitiveness towards the global market would not be obvious at first sight.
In one sentence to grasp the experience: Saxons make their on-the-edge setting away from the big thriving business centers into an innovation hot spot with a centuries-long history dating well back to the 16th century. Passion, Pride, and Pursuing rules!