© Pexels/ Adrien Olichon

Take off the big-city glasses, strengthen rural areas

Small and medium-sized enterprises and family businesses have often been rooted in rural areas for generations. Inadequate infrastructure and a lack of skilled workers put local businesses, employees and their families under pressure. The framework conditions must become noticeably more attractive - for working, housing and living. It is also socially worthwhile to give rural areas new impetus and create new incentives to stay in and to come to them.

Small and medium-sized enterprises and family businesses in rural areas are key success factors for their regions: They offer attractive jobs, they educate and train, they pay taxes into the public coffers, they are innovative shapers of the location, they promote art, culture and sport, and they are committed to integration and inclusion. For Germany, this brings strength across the board and contributes to equality of living conditions.

Locational loyalty threatens to become a competitive disadvantage

Inadequate transport infrastructures - for roads, railways, bridges and locks - are putting increasing pressure on industrial small and medium-sized enterprises. Those who operate in deeply staggered and cross-border value creation networks depend on efficient logistics processes from every company location.

Broadband coverage in many rural areas is at best sufficient to keep a few employees in video conferences at the same time. Comprehensive digital processes and Industry 4.0 are thus not guaranteed. It is necessary to secure the competitiveness of companies in the countryside and to finally connect Germany nationwide to the possibilities of the 21st century.

Qualified staff is hard to find or hard to keep in many rural areas. Most small and medium-sized enterprises do a lot on their own to recruit and retain staff. But they are also reliant on attractive educational infrastructures in the region. Too often, young people move away because of the lack of modern educational opportunities in rural areas. In combination with the effects of demographic change and too little public investment in the future, this contributes to the disconnection of entire regions. This endangers social stability, social cohesion and political tolerance.

"You can buy machines, but not technology. A qualified workforce is crucial. That is why we attach great importance to good training and further education in our owner-managed, medium-sized company. With the experience and ideas of our employees, we secure the future of our company and our region. And we have been doing so for 200 years," explains Gerd Röders, Managing Partner of G.A.Röders GmbH & Co. KG in Soltau.

Use the advantages of rural areas, reduce bureaucracy and speed up planning procedures

In order to expand infrastructures, federal states and municipalities must also be able to act financially and administrations must act more unbureaucratically, for example, in the designation of commercial and residential building land. The potential to implement ideas more quickly lies in the rather clear structures of rural regions. Excessive regulations at the federal level should not undermine pragmatic solutions at the local level - also in order to keep the next generation of companies at the location with courage and desire.

The election programmes of all parties remain too vague

Almost all parties have taken up the issue of "rural areas" in their election programmes for the 2021 federal elections, but the debate is not very concrete and does not do justice to the challenges. It is long overdue for the setting of a stronger political focus here - without romanticizing rural life and economies. After all, rural regions account for about 46 percent of Germany's gross value added and are home to about 57 percent of the population.

Those who want to preserve the industrial small and medium-sized businesses as an essential factor for success in rural areas should:

  • Create state-of-the-art digital and transport infrastructures nationwide.
  • Offer educational opportunities nationwide and secure the supply of skilled workers.
  • Apply the subsidiarity principle for the benefit of a pragmatic local solution and prevent excessive regulations at the federal level, for example, in the designation of commercial areas.
  • Reach out even more to entrepreneurs in rural areas to understand the concerns of local businesses.