Munich Offers Even More than 2008

by Tom Clark

The Lufthansa A330-300 lifted off from the Munich Airport runway on May 11, heading to its newest destination – Denver, Colorado. The two airports have been “sisters” for 25 years, exchanging staff, learning from one another, copying one another’s best practices and, most importantly, working to bring back the direct flight that was canceled in 2008.

More than 30 elected officials, community, and business leaders spent five days in meetings with Bavarian and Munich officials along with economic development, tourism, and business and airport leaders. The goal: link two global cities through trade, culture, and educational ties. 

We thought we had it wrapped in 2008. Our nonstop flight from DEN to MUC was operating with more than 80 percent passenger load (good enough to make most transoceanic flights profitable). But the price of oil at $104/barrel proved to be the death knell to an effort that was 19 years in the making.

So why will the flight work this time? What’s changed that will extend the global reach of both metro regions?

First of all, both the Denver and Munich regions have grown rapidly; their economies have become even more diversified than was the case previously. And the new employment clusters in both communities are more compatible than they’ve ever been.

While automobiles are still the eye candy, Bavarian markets have expanded into solar and wind technologies, IT, and a burgeoning startup business community, led by the enthusiasm of their own millennials intent on “doing well, by doing good.” Both have strong attachments to beer and their mountains. Sound like Metro Denver?  

Both communities have increasingly obvious global ties to each other…and some of the same challenges. Both have unemployment rates hovering around 3 percent. Both have significant in-migration of young urbanites. The rapid growth in both has created a community discussion of better ways to deal with automobile congestion in and around Munich.

Eight years ago, we sometimes struggled to develop business partnerships with Bavarian companies.  Their economy was much more tilted to advanced manufacturing than ours. But with a 15 percent growth in Colorado’s advanced manufacturing employment compared to the nation’s 8 percent growth, we’ll open other markets for our companies. And we found much greater interest from service industry companies than in the past. Our more diverse energy cluster, comprised of cleantech and fossil fuels, portends opportunities. Bavaria is the European leader in solar technology – something of which we’re well acquainted. These changes point toward more successful partnerships in both cultural and economic ties. 

A big hats off to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and Denver International Airport (DEN) CEO Kim Day and her team for their dogged determination to return this flight to Denver. The Metro Denver EDC and its predecessors have chased this flight since 1989, in partnership with the DEN team and Bavarian business leaders.

But the importance of this flight goes beyond Munich. The location of MUC gives businesses and tourists access to Italy and other eastern European destinations as well as the Middle East and beyond. 

Say “Wilkommen” to our old and new Bavarian friends and as I always say, “Please fly the front of the plane.”

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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