Mike Hedges AM examines what Swansea can learn from Mannheim, its thriving twin city.
Mannheim is Swansea’s twin city but that is where the similarity ends. The economic data for the two areas makes interesting, and as a Swansea resident, depressing reading. In Mannheim metropolitan region its GVA is 147% of the European average but in Mannheim city it rises to 210%, compare that to the Swansea Metropolitan region on 75% and the Swansea local authority area on 79%.
What does Mannheim do differently and can Swansea learn from its twin city?
The city of Mannheim has been referred to as the first “Smart City” where they have been successful in connecting each household within the city to a smart energy network. Bus stops state when the next bus is arriving and have signs indicating where traffic jams are. Furthermore, in both the city and region, you are able to reach everything simply via bus, tram or train.
Mannheim’s University, which is one of the leading research institutions within Germany, plays a key role in its economy. The research institutions of the University closely collaborate with a number of national and international partners. Some examples are the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research and the Centre for European Economic Research. Mannheim Business School is Germany’s number one business school offering world class management education.
An institution affiliated with the University is the Mannheim Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MCEI) that provides a founder and incubator platform for students, young entrepreneurs and investors. The institute is supported by the Mannheim Institute for Mittelstand and SME Research (IfM) and the Chair of SME Research and Entrepreneurship at the University of Mannheim. Several successful startups have already been launched at the University of Mannheim or been initiated by former students, for example (according to local media sources), Payback (€500m exit to American Express), Delivery Hero (raised $1.4b funding), AUTO1 Group (raised $200m funding), StudiVZ (€85m exit to Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group), Simfy (raised €30m funding), Goodgame Studios (initiating IPO), SavingGlobal (raised $32m funding), Synchronite (sold to LivePerson) and movilizer (sold to Honeywell). The Metropolitan Region is more and more becoming a draw for multimedia and high-tech service providers through SAP, and leading major corporations such as ABB, BASF and Roche Diagnostics have set up there.
The above helps explain why Mannheim was ranked eleventh in the top fifteen of the most inventive cities worldwide.
Mannheim also has not lost its historical manufacturing base with the successor to Karl Benz’s automobile manufacturing companies, Daimler AG, headquartered in Stuttgart, having had a large presence in Mannheim. And it is in Mannheim that diesel engines and buses are assembled.
The city is also home to major, multinational corporations such as ABB, IBM, Roche, Unilever, Phoenix Group and several other well-known companies. Also there are numerous emerging medium-sized companies, for example Fuchs Petrolub and Pepperl & Fuchs, which operate internationally.
The creative industries are firmly established, with the famous Mannheimer Schule and the National Theatre. Mannheim also has a long standing cultural tradition. The Popakademie, Germany’s first university for pop music and music business, is internationally renowned. Music festivals such as Maifeld Derby and Time Warp underpin Mannheim’s position as a city of music. There is also the atelier of the fashion designer Dorothee Schumacher and her creations are presented at international fashion weeks.
With the aim of contributing to an environment where many more creative businesses can arise, the Mg: Mannheimer Gründungszentren supports business founders. The centre advises during the foundation process, provides office space and helps start-up companies overcome the challenges they face.
I believe the role the University plays in supporting the development of start-up companies is crucial to the prosperity of the area. Also the idea of having key industrial sectors and supporting them, building on local expertise and areas where expertise has been developed over several years. Mannheim has also kept its manufacturing sector especially based around Mercedes Benz.
Whilst Swansea cannot replicate everything in Mannheim, building on the universities – especially the bay campus – to generate start-up companies via a centre for Entrepreneurship and innovation would be a substantial step forward. Mannheim has made progress on energy and connectivity, two areas that Swansea Bay City region can benefit from.
Finally, building on the creative industries already in the region and also recognising the continued importance of the metal industries would help take the Swansea Bay City region forward.
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