Sister Cities International was formed out of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 White House conference on citizen diplomacy as an initiative to create partnerships between communities in the U.S. and cities around the world. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the St. Louis – Stuttgart Sister Cities (SLSSC) organization, which was founded on March 10, 1960. SLSSC is one of 15 Sister Cities programs in St. Louis, all of which are a part of the international mission of the World Trade Center St. Louis. The nonprofit groups encourage multicultural experiences through cultural events, student exchanges and business trade missions.
Promoting Cultural Understanding
SLSSC sponsors many events in the St. Louis community, including performances by the musicians of Concertino Stuttgart, art competitions and cultural festivals. According to Susanne Evens, President of St. Louis – Stuttgart Sister Cities, a key component of the Sister Cities’ work is the sponsorship of student exchanges. This year, SLSSC awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Steven Fogarty, a junior at the University of Missouri-St. Louis majoring in computer science, to attend the University of Stuttgart for one year. SLSSC also organized a group of student dancers and musicians to participate in the Stuttgart Youth Group Exchange. Evens said the SLSSC youth group has taken three trips abroad in the past two years, and last year it took part in the UNESCO World Youth Festival 2009 in Stuttgart. “In 2008 I had the privilege of visiting Stuttgart and participating in the annual Sister City conference, during which all of the sister city partners from around the world gather,” said Dennis Pruitt, CEcD, AICP, vice president of international business recruitment for Missouri Partnership. “It was amazing to meet new friends from St. Helens, England; Mumbai, India; Cairo, Egypt; Strasbourg, France; Samara, Russia; and Menzel Bourguiba, Tunisia.”
Forging Business Partnerships
Missouri Partnership works to market Missouri as a destination for new business investment and attract new employers to the state for job creation and capital investment in our communities. Representatives from Missouri Partnership meet with industry leaders and other major companies around the world to form long-term relationships. “Germany has the largest economy in Europe and it is the world leader in many manufacturing sectors,” said Pruitt. “I make multiple trips to Germany each year to talk to companies considering expansion into the United States.” In addition to the SLSSC, he works with the German American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago and two German consultants in Atlanta who help open doors for him overseas. “Germany is also the host of many international trade fairs, so it makes it convenient for me to meet with companies from around the world when I am there,” he added. In addition to his work in Germany, Pruitt works on projects in Spain, Denmark, France, Canada and Israel. Evens said the business development aspect of SLSSC has become stronger over the last few years, and cited several German companies that have opened divisions in St. Louis because of their involvement in the Sister Cities program, including Schattdecor, IFS North America and Refratechnik North America. According to the St. Louis County Economic Council, Schattdecor, a global producer of printed décor paper and finish foil, is making a $69 million investment in the community with the construction of its first North American manufacturing facility, which will produce a total of 107 new jobs, 77 of which are in manufacturing. Evens believes Schattdecor chose St. Louis because of the city’s character. “They felt St. Louis had a very European/German feel to it,” she said. IFS North America, the U.S.-based division of food safety company International Featured Standards, opened its doors in February of 2010. Why did they choose St. Louis? “Because it’s a food safety standard company, and St. Louis is centrally located in the country, which was a real consideration,” said George Gansner, who runs the division and is responsible for marketing and business development in both North America and Latin America. He also said the large number of food and beverage companies located in St. Louis, such as Anheuser-Busch, Sysco and Ralcorp Holdings, made the city an attractive location. Another U.S. division of a German company, Refratechnik North America, was formed in St. Louis in 1999. Terry Juden, the company’s office manager, said the division started in general manager Dr. Harald Walter’s home in 1999, but has since grown into a larger office with nine employees. The SLSSC program also works to strengthen relationships between civic leaders. This year, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay visited Stuttgart, and Stuttgart Lord Mayor Dr. Wolfgang Schuster visited St. Louis along with Dr. Wolfgang Holtkamp from the University of Stuttgart to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the cities’ partnership. “Every time we travel to Stuttgart and every time they come here, there are new relationships built,” said Evens.
Sponsoring Meetings and Events
These cultural programs and business opportunities not only result in better relationships and economic investment in the region, they also produce a number of meetings and events. To raise funds for its programs, SLSSC holds two major events each year: the St. Louis – Stuttgart Winter Ball Karneval, a sort of German Mardi Gras gala, and Oktoberfest, a two-day outdoor festival that features a brass band from Stuttgart and celebrates the music and culture of Germany. This year, the 23rd annual Winter Ball Karneval was held on Feb. 6, at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel, and 465 guests attended. The organization also holds a Christmas party each year, is a sponsor of St. Louis Strassenfest and participates in the International Institute’s Festival of Nations. IFS North America has a U.S. working group made up of leaders from retail and food service companies, suppliers and certification bodies. Gansner said they held a meeting in April 2010 in conjunction with a week-long training session for food safety auditors. About seven people attended the working group meeting and 14 attended the training session. The working group meeting was held at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac Hotel, and the agenda included a dinner event at Cardwell’s at the Plaza restaurant. Gansner said he has also encouraged the IFS board of directors to hold future meetings in St. Louis. When international delegates are brought in to discuss business and potential business, Pruitt said, each visit “requires a lot of support from hotels, transportation, and restaurants.” He is optimistic about these meetings’ long-term impact. “My goal is to make sure that both sides of the equation are happy: the visitors see opportunity and the local businesses they meet with find new business partners,” he said. MM&E
(Lisa Lance is a contributor from Towson, Md.)
St. Louis – Stuttgart Sister Cities
c/o World Trade Center
121 South Meramec, Suite 1100
Clayton, MO 63105