According to the Representative of German Industry & Trade, as of 2022, German investment in the US amounts to roughly $637 billion, with 5,601 German companies present in the US, and 885,100 jobs created by German companies in the US. Transportation goods make up the bulk of the trading relationship between Germany and the United States.
While you might be well aware that Germany is a key trade partner for the US, did you know that the Southeast holds a special place in this relationship? The Southeastern US is typically defined as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee, sometimes including other States like Louisiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. If we zoom in on these states, we’ll see that German industry has a special relationship here.
Image source: Bertelsmann Foundation
As seen in this map developed by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Southeast as a whole is home to a large number of employees employed by German firms. North Carolina and Georgia are both in the top 10 list of States that are home to “significant operations” of German companies, with North Carolina housing 25 operations, and Georgia housing 21. South Carolina houses 15 “significant operations,” and also holds the spot of most German FDI per capita. Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are collectively home to 17 US headquarters of German companies. The include Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, located in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, and Volkswagen Group of America, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
If we focus more specifically on South Carolina, we can really see the extent of the German-American trade relationship. Germany is the top foreign employer in the state, employing 37,600 people. Top companies invested in South Carolina include BMW Manufacturing, Mercedes-Benz Vans, and Bosch Rexroth.
With all this in mind, it’s clear to see why it would be beneficial to know the German language and German culture in this area. In today’s global workforce, intercultural understanding has become more important than ever. More often than not, large companies are dealing with a multitude of different languages, countries, and cultural backgrounds when communicating with their workforce. This, however, is beneficial to both employer and employee. Scholar Jane Jackson writes, “a multicultural and multilingual workforce can be beneficial in a number of ways. It can add value to businesses and organizations by helping them to become more adaptable, flexible and productive.”
With German companies specifically, understanding the differences in business cultures can be key to success! German and American culture are similar in many ways. Historically, a large portion of European-descended Americans have German heritage, and the German language remains one of the most taught languages in high schools and universities. Thus, there’s a familiarity among Americans with Germany.
Typically, the business cultures actually mesh quite well. However, small differences like understanding that German business culture often relies more on written agreements, or simply knowing that “hi, how are you?” has a slightly different context can drastically help in a German-American environment, especially in the South where friendliness and hospitality is key to business relationships.
Even just understanding the basic structure of the language can help in an intercultural business environment. When learning German, one quickly sees that German has a written formal and informal case, whereas English does not and instead relies more on context. The realization can help an employee or manager be more sensitive to interacting with colleagues at all stages of the business hierarchy.
Intercultural business communication is key to today’s global businesses, and therefore it’s integral to the global business landscape of the Southeastern US. Since German companies comprise a large share of industry in Southern states, especially ones like South Caroline, understanding German culture and language can be key to a successful and rewarding career.