By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — International relationships were strengthened when Metin Hakverdi, a member of the German Bundestag, Germany's parliament, visited local officials on Friday. Hakverdi is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
Accompanied by Simon Vaut, a civil servant in the office of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hakverdi has visited local officials in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Pittsburgh since April 4. They will also visit New York City.
Hakverdi's goal in holding the series of meetings is to understand the changes in the manufacturing sector in the U.S., specifically the Rust Belt. He chose Mount Vernon and Ohio because of their history of transitioning from largely a steel industry to other methods of economic redevelopment.
During the two-hour meeting, the group discussed a number of topics, including the energy market, corporate tax rates, President Donald Trump's agenda on deregulation, fracking and the estate tax, or inheritance tax as it is called in Germany. Family owned businesses are the backbone of German enterprise, as they are in the U.S.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis talks with Simon Vaut, a civil servant in the office of Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, center, and Metin Hakverdi, a member of Germany's Bundestag. Vaut and Hakverdi met with Mavis and other local officials on Friday to learn about local economic redevelopment efforts and changes in the manufacturing sector.
KP photo by Cheryl Splain
Another topic was vocational training, something Germany does very well through its apprenticeship program but is lacking in the United States. Vaut said that when German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently visited Trump, they had a good discussion about the apprenticeship program. Ivanka Trump plans to visit Germany to learn firsthand about the program.
Jeff Harris of the Area Development Foundation explained how the city and county try to avoid what Hakverdi termed a “race to the bottom” when it comes to offering excessive incentives for businesses to stay or relocate to the area. Although incentives are not ruled out, the attitude is more “we value ourselves, what's in in for us” when it comes to negotiating with companies. He explained how many small-town representatives are “taking the reins and moving ahead” rather than waiting for help from the federal level.
Vaut said he had a favorable meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He said Germany and the U.S. agree that free trade is good, but Germany is concerned about potential trade barriers. Karen Wright, CEO of Ariel Corp., shared her perception of Trump's intentions based on her multiple meetings with the president. Ariel Corp. has an office in Beijing.
Noting that Germany is trying to get out of the coal industry, Hakverdi broached the question of how to use market forces to not only lower energy costs but also take care of the environment, such as using wind and solar.
As much as anything, Hakverdi wanted to get a sense of the reaction to Trump's election and why disenchanted Democrat voters voted Republican. He also wants to learn what, if any, are the benchmarks or expectations as Trump's presidency progresses.
Noting that disenchantment is not unique to the U.S., he said his gut feeling is Trump's election was based on emotion, not policy. He questioned whether jobs or issues will decide the outcome of the next election, or will the voters again vote based on emotion. The consensus of the local representatives was that it was emotional, that Trump tapped into a deep dissatisfaction many voters have with the status quo.
Hakverdi said that policywise, he is not too pessimistic with Trump's presidency. His criticism stems from Trump's words; he said that as the leader of the west, Trump's words have international consequences.
In addition to Harris and Wright, those attending the meeting included Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis, City Auditor Terry Scott, County Commissioner Theresa Bemiller and Stephen Rhoades of Siemens Energy.
Bemiller thought the meeting was very worthwhile. “I think it's very interesting to listen to the challenges they have and see how theirs compares to ours,” she said. “I think it's interesting that they are interested in the emotional aspect of President Trump. I got a lot out of it.”