Three counties join forces with Steinbeis to promote economic development together
You may be wondering who or what EGON is. Allow us to explain the name: EGON is a German acronym for a business start-up initiative in the counties along the Eschach tributary of the Neckar River. It is being supported by Economy, Start-up, Commune, the Steinbeis Transfer Center in Villingen-Schwenningen, which has been helping manage the multi-community economic development project since 2022. The interdisciplinary team at Steinbeis has set ambitious goals for the project and has already recorded major achievements along the way.
Dauchingen, Deisslingen, Niedereschach – small rural communities that have plenty in common. In addition to bordering one another in rolling countryside roughly halfway between Stuttgart and Lake Constance, all three counties fall under the two rural districts Schwarzwald-Baar-Kreis and Rottweil. But their location is not the only thing they have in common; they’re also home to a multitude of manufacturers and skilled crafts companies, resulting in considerable economic power. As a business location next to the A81 freeway and the B27 highway, the counties enjoy good transportation links.
The structure of local industry essentially revolves around the production and processing of metal products, sometimes as an integral element of automotive supply chains. The counties are also home to important plastic processing companies, some of which supply the electronics industry. Local skilled crafts enterprises span the entire spectrum of industry services, playing an essential role in safeguarding local supply systems. These businesses also foster variety in the local economy.
The dynamic and flourishing nature of business in Dauchingen, Deisslingen, and Niedereschach is also reflected in the fact that currently, there is approximately full employment in all three counties. In addition, all share the same degree of interest in issues that are of particular importance in rural areas: demographics, local supply networks, structural changes, and the future competitiveness of the local economy.
The EGON Project
Aside from economic and geographical connections and overlaps, one characteristic aspect of the three communities is the emphasis they give to certain factors of the local economy and (inter-)municipal economic development. This is strongly reflected by the fact that the EGON initiative, which was originally launched in 2013 by Martin Ragg, mayor of Niedereschach, has now been run cooperatively by the three counties of Dauchingen, Deisslingen, and Niedereschach for six years. Overall, this shows that the three town halls made the initiative a top priority some time ago!
The three mayors – Torben Dorn (Dauchingen), Martin Ragg (Niedereschach), and Ralf Ulbrich (Deisslingen) – soon realized they share the same vision, all recognizing that economic development within the community is crucial for progress and the future viability of their counties. They also saw that it would be extremely difficult for the individual counties to maintain effective and financially viable structures of economic development on their own. To pool their know-how and save resources, in 2017 it was therefore decided to establish EGON on an inter-community level and fund the initiative together. Success on the ground and the high regard in which the project is held beyond the three counties serve as striking confirmation that this was the right strategy.
The EGON Project has attracted numerous awards and is considered a showcase project for inter-community economic development. In addition to winning the “Landmarks in the Land of Ideas” award and being nominated for the European Enterprise Promotion Awards, the EGON initiative has caught the eye of a variety of key stakeholders, including the state-wide “competition. This positive perception of EGON beyond the three counties has, among other things, fueled a large number of inquiries regarding knowledge sharing.
Although this positive image to the outside world underscores the many successes of EGON, also opening new doors, its focus still lies in local priorities. The declared aim of the initiative is to systematically improve the framework conditions for economic activity in the three counties. After a number of years of success, the next priority was to inject new momentum – with and through the EGON Project – and use the overall concept as a stepping stone to innovation.
The innovative approach adopted by EGON is directly linked to the decision to outsource inter-community business development Steinbeis Transfer Center Economy, Start-up, Commune. Officially commissioned by the council members of the three counties in April 2022, the experts at Steinbeis have been busily implementing the new overall concept since May 2022. In addition to promoting the region, the concept is based on three key pillars, all of which – wherever it makes sense and whenever possible – are interlinked. On the one hand, support is being given to existing companies based on a number of systematic methods and approaches. These include the tried-and-tested Steinbeis Enterprise Competence Check (ECC) and an in-house survey of businesses in the three counties, the aim of which is to identify areas where action is required and make recommendations based on empirical evidence.
The second pillar, which is of equal importance, is about initiating and supporting start-ups. This involves giving objective and unbiased advice to people interested in setting up a business, also offering support with any other aspects of their projects. Services offered include consulting on technological, business, and legal issues and, whenever it makes sense, the involvement of external experts. Business founders are also being offered access to the so-called pilot model. This enables start-ups to receive advice from experts with (business) management experience. Working on a voluntary basis, those experts allow start-ups to optimize management of their business concepts. Advising start-ups also entails attracting firms to the areas that, until now, have occupied market niches. This should help expand the network of economic activity.
Even if, at first glance, the activities that fall under the third pillar seem lower-profile – dealing with general activities that promote economic development – they are of central importance to the three communities. Those activities include forging local networks, a fixed element of the new overall concept and one that involves an innovative understanding of spatial issues: Networks and cooperations should be fostered and formed regardless of location, with emphasis being given to overlaps in key topics; the EGON Project shifts borders to form a common economic zone that encompasses all three geographical areas!
The value added by this innovative strategy is obvious: The number of companies in the EGON economic zone with potential overlaps in terms of the topics they work on is much higher than in each individual county. This offers much more favorable conditions for forging networks and collaboration. It also means it takes less time and effort searching for solutions. This makes it possible to pool skills in the area and promote local business circles. The advantages this offers are clear: If value can be predominantly offered on a local level, this benefits both the private sector and the overall structure of the local economy, and this in turn boosts the competitiveness of the economic zone and the appeal of all three communities.
Implementation of the new EGON business development strategy is being managed by a pool of six employees at the Steinbeis Transfer Center Economy, Start-up, Commune. Each has been chosen carefully to match individual topics. The EGON team is as interdisciplinary as it is diverse in nature. In addition to their personal expertise, the team members also enjoy access to a large number of contacts both within and beyond the Steinbeis Network. The interdisciplinary skills of the team offer considerable benefits. With economic development on a communal level, it is not the interests of the specific stakeholders that determine success. Instead, everything revolves around the big picture – i.e. local infrastructure. The interests of the business community, local politics, and local community are not always congruent. As a result, being in a position to offer different views and strike a balance between different interests helps promote the aims of economic development.
The project offers much potential to the economic zone – not only of the EGON initiative but also beyond! There can be little doubt that the economic conditions in the area, the commitment of the three mayors, and the interdisciplinary expertise offered by Steinbeis are central to the success of EGON; together, this is clearly already shaping developments in the area after just under a year. The foundation laid by this success, the defined goals, and the drive to achieve those goals, are nonetheless universal, and as a result, there is potential to transfer aspects of the EGON Project to other areas.
Marcel Reiner (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center Economy, Start-Up, Commune (Villingen-Schwenningen)