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Wichita business group makes friends in Germany

Wichita business group makes friends in Germany

Friday, September 24, 2010, 5:17pm CDT

Marlin Penner made a friend today.

At the Husum WindEnergy 2010 trade show in Germany — one of the largest such conferences in the world — the Wichita real estate broker walked up to a booth of a company that worked in solar power. One of the company executives there started talking to him and told him that he’d visited Kansas once, but it had been 30 years ago. Penner asked where the man had gone in Kansas. The response was Wichita, where the executive had visited a friend.

The inevitable question: Who was the friend? Penner immediately recognized the name.

“That’s my cousin!” he said, recounting the exchange to the WBJ on Friday afternoon.

He says “the doors just flew open at the point.” Penner, who is traveling with a Kansas delegation courting wind turbine manufacturers at the Husum conference, says he was invited into the back room of the company’s booth, where he was able to network with the firm, which he says also has strong connections to the wind industry.

“They knew one person — they’d visited one person in the U.S. What were the chances it would be my cousin?” Penner says.

And if indeed the world is a small place, here’s another example from Germany.

When the Kansas delegation was visiting the booth of a Danish manufacturer of gear boxes, it ran into a Wichita State University grad.

All of those connections will be much needed in the coming years as the local region tries to create a wind energy cluster, says Penner, who is providing regular updates for WBJ’s BizNotes blog about the Husum conference.

“It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the flood of contacts,” he says.

But there also was some old-fashioned business development going on today. Penner says Patty Koehler, owner of JR Custom Metal Products, met with a manufacturer of small wind turbines, working to establish a partnership. Koehler also is working on two other prospects she met today, Penner says.

Penner also says the delegation met with several companies that said they were interested in acquiring firms in the United States to get their feet in the door here. He says many of the components of wind turbines aren’t suitable for shipping overseas, necessitating a local manufacturing presence.

He says one firm specifically said it was looking to buy a hydraulics company.

The delegation also interacted with a New York City firm that manufactures lifts for turbines. The company expressed interest in moving to the Midwest.

“We have a named contact person that we are going to follow up on shortly,” he says.

And Penner says Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who has been with the group all week, met a manufacturer of composite wind turbine blades. Penner, who didn’t attend the meeting, says the mayor was encouraged by the visit.

“We think making blades is something that could happen here,” Penner says.

Friday essentially marked the conclusion of the Husum show. Penner says some members of the Kansas delegation are going to do some sight-seeing on Saturday before traveling back to the United States on Sunday.

Penner says he and Stan Brodhagen, president of Brodhagen Consulting Services in Newton, and Dave Cox of Salina’s Maico Industries, will stay behind another day to take some plant tours in Germany.