A bit of Europe in Cincinnati

Take a quick look at Anne Cappel’s calendar and get a good sense of how interested companies based thousands of miles away are in doing business in Cincinnati.

Anne is the main cheerleader, social chairman, guiding light and executive director of the European-American Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati.  There’s really no model for her role because, until a few weeks ago, there was no other organization like it in the entire United States of America.  New York City,  population 8.2 million, just started one this month. In Cincinnati, Anne managed to put together a remarkable network of executives, corporations and expatriates to support this organization, which plays an important role in encouraging Europeans to do business here in the heartland.

Earlier this month, in a visit sponsored by the EACC, the U.S. ambassador to Poland visited for a couple of days. In March, executives of German companies will meet and professionals from German conglomerate Siemens will host a networking event. Belgium-based manufacturer Deceuninck hosts an April get-together, and in May, Paris-based building materials giant LaFarge plays host to professionals looking to network.

In late May, Cincinnati will be stop one on the itinerary of one of the top officials of the European Union in a visit arranged by the chamber. His name is Angelos Pangratis, and, as deputy head of the European Commission to the United States, Ambassador Pangratis has something to say about where the countries of the European Union, 27 members that produce about a third of the world’s goods and services, will invest their euros.

Throughout the year, the group hosts happy hours for young professionals and holds special events, such as the visit from the EU official and a roundtable on French-U.S. relations under French President Sarkozy. This full calendar is lightened only by a pause to commemorate Bastille Day in July and, in November, to celebrate the rolling out of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau. Those last two are on there probably because Anne is French and understandably attuned to the traditions of that country.

In fact, the EACC began its life in 2001 as the French-American Chamber of Commerce, with Cappel as part of the small founding group.  The French chamber was largely the vision of Gerard Laviec, who at the time was the chief executive of CFM International.  Headquartered in Cincinnati, CFM is a joint venture among Cincinnati-based GE Aviation and Snecma of France. Anyone who’s ever flown on a Boeing 737 or an Airbus jet has likely had their journey powered by a CFM engine and the joint venture has meant billions of dollars of investment in the region.

In 2006, with more European countries investing here, some of them saw the benefits of the local French-American chamber and began to think about their starting their own.  She credits board member Joseph Dehner, an attorney, with having the vision and the leadership to put the new group together. With that initiative, she and the board created the European-American Chamber of Commerce, which debuted Jan. 1, 2007, bringing all the European interests under that umbrella.

“This allowed us to put into place a broader support for European business and help drive European trade,” says board member Simon Hay, CEO of Britain-based dunnhumby’s USA unit, which is headquartered in Cincinnati. Trade is what the May visit from the EU ambassador will be all about. His trip to Cincinnati will be an opportunity for networking, and a chance to showcase a city that is already a place where a significant number of European companies do business.

The occasion is an EACC gala dinner, expected to be attended by hundreds of movers and shakers at one of downtown Cincinnati’s premier hotels.  When Ambassador Pangratis reports back to the EU headquarters, no doubt he’ll have a pretty good idea of the kind of people that live and work in this midsized, Midwestern city.

“He’ll have an idea about a part of America he may not have known about,”  Cappel says.

She didn’t know much about Cincinnati either when she arrived in 1986, backpack over shoulder, to study at the University of Cincinnati for what she thought would be only 10 weeks.  Twenty-two years later, she has a degree from UC, is married to a Cincinnatian, is rearing three children here and is a well-connected part of the business scene.

 For several years, she was a sales manager for Air France, which operated two daily nonstops to Paris from the Greater Cincinnati airport. Volunteering for what was then French-American Chamber got her involved with that group and she never looked back.

Now leading this one-of-a-kind organization, she plays a key role in presenting Cincinnati to the rest of the world. Dozens of European companies have already set up shop here, drawn in a by a talented workforce, reasonable cost of living, and the transportation network, particularly an airport that offers several direct flights daily to Europe.

There’s Berlin-based Siemens AG, which just invested $30 million here in researching electric motors, Britain-based dunnhumby, which set up its US headquarters in downtown Cincinnati; Swiss flavor and fragrance maker Givaudan, which operates a R&D facility here, and Paris-based giant LaFarge, which runs one of the largest building materials plants in the country in Northern Kentucky.

“There’s over 200 European businesses here that have selected this region as their U.S. headquarters or have big operations here,” Cappel says.

And the EACC is one of the unifying forces that brings these companies together and helps attract more of them to city.  “The chamber helps connect European companies that have an ‘American project’ to Cincinnati,” said Eric Bachelet, the current chief executive of CFM International. “It provides services that can facilitate their integration here.”

And there will be more.  In Anne’s inbox recently was an e-mail from a businessman in France planning a scouting trip to Cincinnati.  She activated her network, touching base with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber to widen the number of contacts the exec will have access to and to help sell the region to his firm.

She’s involved in an April trade mission being organized by the Regional Chamber to develop prospects in the Netherlands, France and Germany.  Dusseldorf, Germany, in particular, is interested in a partnership with the city of   Cincinnati.

It looks like Anne’s calendar will stay full. As long as it does, Cincinnati’s European connection will stay strong.


Photography by

Scott Beseler and Paul Gemin

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