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Editorial: Size matters

I went to Germany last month. I and 3500 other molding geeks were in Lossburg attending Arburg’s annual Technology Days, a Teutonic demonstration of the latest and greatest in molding technology—inmold labeling, multimolding, MIM, LSR, gas assist, and plain-old thermoplastic shooting.

You get a tour of the Arburg facility to boot, although the word “facility” applied here seems a tad trite. The Hehl family, which owns and runs Arburg, has obviously invested much of its spare change over the last few decades in this hangar-sized structure. Let me put it this way: When you’re walking through a building and are passed by employees riding bicycles, then you know you’ve got a ways to go.


Aerial view of Arburg’s facility in Lossburg.
If you’ve never been to Lossburg, it’s a smallish town in southwest Germany near the center of the Black Forest—decidedly quaint and German, with rolling hills, pastoral fields, tidy streets, clean sidewalks, and well-kept buildings. When you come into town, however, there is no obvious evidence that Arburg lives there, except for the sign that says “Arburg” and points you off the main street; and when you turn that corner and round the bend, you are suddenly confronted by a massive, modern, gleaming building with fluttering flags and a 500-car parking lot.

And if this were the very first thing you ever saw in Germany, you might be surprised to find such a small town hosting such a large facility, clearly the largest employer around. But if you spend just a few days driving around Germany (off the Autobahn), you discover pretty quickly that companies like Arburg are the norm—winding road, cows, small town, big manufacturer. In my five days of gazing out our VW’s window, I saw manufacturers of drapes, furniture, hair products, and of course scads of molders and moldmakers. Almost all struck me as a vital and important part of the local economy.

None of this, when you think about it, is very different from what you find in the U.S. The difference, I think, is less tangible. In Germany, I get the distinct impression that citizens and government are keenly aware of the vital role small and medium-sized businesses play in the economy. For all the talk about the Wal-Marts, Home Depots, and GMs of the world, developed economies everywhere rely heavily on small businesses to employ most of their citizens. Further, I get the impression that Germans take a distinct pride in the manufacturers that live in their towns.

Here, any decent economist (and politician) knows how important small business and manufacturing is to employment, but such respect is at times grudging; at the end of the day, there is an irresistible attraction to bask in the glow of our more glamorous retailing giants and financial movers and shakers.

Certainly not all is wine and roses in Germany right now, but the country does seem to have a healthy and well-honed respect for the role small manufacturers play, and that can only be a good thing.

Editor
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