Following a decision by Deutsche Post to move its European DHL parcel delivery service hub to Leipzig, municipal authorities in the economically depressed region of eastern Germany are over the moon.
Leipzigers can't wait to get their hands on DHL planes
The new European hub of the courier company DHL is moving to Leipzig, in the former East Germany. Deutsche Post, DHL’s parent company, announced on Tuesday that Leipzig won out over Vatry, France, in DHL’s search for a hub to replace the one in Brussels from the year 2008.
This could bring 10,000 new jobs to the Leipzig area --welcome news in eastern Germany, which has suffered rising unemployment over the last few years.
By the year 2012, DHL is expected to have created 3,500 jobs in Leipzig -- and that will bring about the indirect creation of another 7,000 jobs. In total, DHL will invest about €300 million ($389.7 million) in the area.
DHL's business has been growing steadily and is now the world's leading express and logistics company, with around 170,000 employees worldwide.
With DHL on board, the Leipzig airport will record an estimated 125,000 flights annually as of 2008. The airport currently records some 40,000 flights a year.
A beacon of hope
Since German unification in 1990, the Saxon town of Leipzig has been one of only a few beacons of hope in the otherwise economically depressed eastern federal states. The traditional east-west trade city boasts one of the country’s most modern fairgrounds hosting a renowned book fair and other international events on an annual basis. Last year, Leipzig celebrated the opening of new Porsche and BMW car making facilities.
Although the hub won't be fully operational until 2008, municipal authorities are already over the moon about the deal they were able to strike. The mayor of Leipzig, Wolfgang Tiefensee (photo), was happy about the announcement.
"We are beside ourselves," he told reporters. "We have opened the champagne bottles and are very, very happy that DHL has given its trust to the Leipzig/Halle region. I'm eternally thankful that those responsible put their energy into making sure that the decision would come out this way."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also praised the decision. He called it a good day for the eastern part of Germany and said it showed that the government's measures to rebuild the east were successful.
A desperate need for jobs
Experts say that having DHL in Leipzig won't drive out other industry in the region because there are large numbers of unemployed with lower and middle level qualifications; how many of the new jobs will be low-paying, low-level positions will depend on how much management DHL decides also to move to Leipzig.
Tiefensee said that his city was in need of jobs as the region mounts its slow economic recovery.
"We ought not forget that unemployment in the Leipzig region -- that's about one-third of the state of Saxony -- still remains around 18 percent," he said. "We have already accomplished a lot, comparatively, but out of a really difficult situation -- so far high unemployment that could only be brought down a little bit. We expect the effects of our efforts in the next 10 to 15 years -- right now they're difficult to notice."
Some concerns about airport expansion
The airport in Leipzig itself will be built up so that it can handle DHL, and the situation will thereby improve for other airlines as well. The state of Saxony is going to match DHL's investment by putting another €300 million towards the extension of the airport and building an additional runway. DHL had to move its main European hub out of Brussels because there is a ban on night flights at the airport; there isn't such a ban in Leipzig.
But the expected increase in noise levels in the vicinity of the airport is already raising the hackles of some locals and pressure groups. Airport officials are confident, though, that legal action against the new hub will not jeopardize the project.
Passenger numbers have been stagnating of late, according to deputy mayor of the airport district of Schkeuditz, Manfred Heumos.
"After German unification, easterners were euphoric about flying to far-away destinations," he said. "Going on holiday two or three times a year and making use of their newly won freedom of travel was the rule for many. But that’s no longer the case. The number of air passengers here in our region has dropped again, at least as far as holiday makers are concerned. The situation has returned to normal, and people tend to save their money for a rainy day or invest it in their homes or flats. So, it’s very good that the airport will now also be used for freight transport to make up for stagnating passenger numbers.”
Jochen Partier from the tiny village of Kursdorf near the airport is looking ahead to the airport’s enlargement with mixed feelings.
"The development of our airport has brought many people new jobs, especially after the political changes in 1989-90," he said. "But with the airport, problems increased too. For example, the noise at the airport increases and increases and not only the airport but also the other connections, for example the train connections and the highway, these are now the most important problems."
Airport officials pledge to cooperate
But Susanne Trumpler from the airport’s public relations department claims that local residents’ worries are being taken seriously by the management.
"Of course people in Kursdorf are affected by the airport, by noise," she said. "But we want to limit the effects, they receive special windows for instance so that noise doesn’t come into the rooms. We have good relations with the people since a lot of them work here at the airport, the unemployment rate in this village is very, very low. You can say the rate is going to zero."
Nevertheless, airport enlargement opponents have already lodged over 3,000 complaints voicing their fears about increased noise pollution. It's something that farmer Achim Knauf can’t relate to.
"Well, I’ve lived here for 44 years now and have build up a new life for myself," he said. "And we’ve always had the airport as our neighbor. I’ve grown old with it, as it were. Of course, I’d never have thought that the airport would become so big one day, but that’s no reason for me to quit things and leave the village. I’ve sort of got used to the noise around us here. They built a wall to reduce the noise. We also got sound-proof windows in our homes and we received some compensation for the impaired use of our plots of land. If I lived in the middle of a city with a tram thundering by every other minute I’d probably be much worse off."
Leipzigers were upset after the International Olympic Committee turned down the city's bid to host the 2012 Games on May 18, 2004.
Leipzig’s municipal authorities are confident that legal proceedings initiated by locals against the enlargement of the airport will not jeopardize or postpone the project. For them, the DHL offer is a huge opportunity to foster economic growth in the region and with it bring down unemployment rates. And it’ll help them forget Leipzig’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.