“The customer has to do the business, but we can support them from all angles”

A catalyst for greater cooperation

Georg Löer, president of NRW Japan K.K.


Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Benjamin Parks

Born in Tokyo, Georg Löer moved to Bonn — in the German state of North Rhine–Westphalia (NRW) — at the age of five. In 1974, a visit to Japan rekindled his interest in the country, so he decided to study at the International Christian University and later at The University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Economics. After having worked for more than 20 years in banking in Germany, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, he took on his current role as president of NRW Japan K.K. in 2007.

What is NRW Japan?

It is the Japanese subsidiary of the economic development agency of the German state of North Rhine–Westphalia (NRW). It was established in 1992 and its focus is on attracting foreign investment to this leading industrial region in Germany. Dusseldorf, the state capital and seat of our organisation, attracted foreign companies early on: Mitsubishi Corporation opened their office there in 1955 and, in 1958, the Bank of Tokyo came. Other Japanese companies, such as Fujifilm and Shimadzu, have now been there for 50 or more years. Right now, we have 630 Japanese companies in NRW.

But the Japanese are only part of the story. The main investors are Dutch, French, UK and US companies, and, more recently, a lot of Chinese companies. What makes NRW attractive is that it has nearly 18 million inhabitants, generates about one-fifth of Germany’s GDP, and is number one for foreign direct investment in Germany. There’s good infrastructure, a lot of good talent and leading industry clusters there. There’s also a huge network of consultancies and infrastructure to support businesses from Japan. And we’re trying to create cooperation possibilities and synergies.

How are you promoting your region to Japanese businesses?

Our first priority is understanding clients’ needs. After an initial meeting to identify a potential customer’s mission, we have a follow-up meeting where we present our proposal — we do a real analysis that, hopefully, reflects their expectations. Then we find partners or locations they could tie-up with. We are a catalyst. We connect various stakeholders, and this enables the customer, who is at the centre of our activities, to write their success story in NRW.

One success story is Nishiyama Seimen from Sapporo, which produces Sapporo Nishiyama Ramen. We helped them establish an office in Dusseldorf and gave them tailor-made support. They are working with a chain of restaurants called Takumi and now ship a container of Sapporo Nishiyama Ramen to Europe each month. And these noodles aren’t only eaten in Dusseldorf, but all across Europe. The customer has to do the business, but we can support them from all angles.

What is the process for Japanese firms going to NRW?

Companies choose to set up a representative office or a limited company. We provide information and help find an office location: you could go into a shared office, rent your own premises, or establish a new facility. Then, you apply for a title of residence. Dusseldorf has a strong track record assisting Japanese companies with residency permits, so it’s relatively easy. The whole process usually takes between three and six months.

What is one of your biggest accomplishments?

We brought a robotics company called Cyberdyne to Germany. I learned about it in 2007, but at the time they weren’t ready for Europe. After I visited the CEO, Professor [Yoshiyuki] Sankai, in 2010, things went very fast. In May 2011, they established a subsidiary in the city of Bochum, and he took his exciting robotics technology there. The head of the clinic on the German side, which we had partnered him with, said that with this technology, they can help patients in ways they previously couldn’t. They conducted clinical tests, funded by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization [NEDO], as well as by the German side. That helped Cyberdyne get the medical certification even before they got it in Japan, which was big news and helped them go to the stock exchange. My biggest satisfaction, however, was to see the patients training in their robot suits in NRW.

Could you tell me about the seminars you offer?

We focus on one topic every year — smart mobility, robotics, medical technology. We host two or three major seminars and invite stakeholders from different areas: people from business, from academia, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, from the media, as well as new candidates and key accounts already in NRW. It’s always a good mix. The intention is to start a dialogue. Then we follow up with smaller events.

The event we held in October was called “NRW in Germany – Land of Innovations: German–Japanese Smart Mobility Symposium”. There were presentations from companies such as e.GO Mobile and StreetScooter. E.ON, which is working with Nissan on e-vehicle charging solutions, also presented. It was all well received.

There’s a huge distance between Europe and Japan. And the distance is not only physical, it’s also in the mind. So, you might have the right person here and the right person over there, but the challenge is to get these people talking, and to keep them talking. And it’s this sustainable communication that will then eventually lead to cooperation — and more success stories. 

“We connect the various stakeholders, and this enables the customer, who is at the centre of our activities, to write their success story in NRW.”