A delegation from Argyll and Bute Council – including representatives from local businesses and a social enterprise – visited a district in Germany which has transformed its own economy and successfully reversed a decline in its population.
The recent trip to Amberg-Sulzbach in Bavaria focussed on economic growth, sharing best practice and promoting Argyll and Bute to the international European market.
Councillor Aileen Morton, Policy Lead for Sustainable Economic Growth, said:
“Growing our population and the local economy was very much on the agenda during the highly successful visit. In this respect the visit to Amberg-Sulzbach, which is overcoming the same challenges that we are experiencing in Argyll and Bute, was important and enlightening.
“Reversing a population decline will bring people and jobs to the area and as a consequence help protect funding for future services.”
As part of the delegation representatives from Argyll and Bute businesses – specialising in forestry, marine biology (linked to renewable energy), agriculture and farming – benefitted greatly from trips to an applied sciences institute, an organic farm – that has diversified into renewable energy production and tourism - and a centre for renewable energies and sustainability.
The itinerary also included visits to see care-at-home facilities for the elderly, restored buildings using LEADER funding, an events venue located in a refurbished and converted barn and a social enterprise providing accommodation, support and employment for adults with special needs.
The district of Amberg-Sulzbach is similar to Argyll and Bute in many ways. It has a population of approximately 100,000 people which has previously experienced a decline – which has now been reversed – and almost 40% of its landscape is made up of forest.
Next year sees the 50th anniversary of the twinning of Argyll and Bute and Amberg-Sulzbach and during the trip the delegates agreed to take forward the partnership with a focus on economic growth, environmental services, area regeneration and cultural exchange.
Councillor Morton concluded: “Internationalisation is a priority for Scotland and Argyll and Bute’s economy. By strengthening our links with the global economy we can increase trade, attract investment and share expertise.”
Dr J Douglas McKenzie, of Oban-based marine biotechnology specialists, Xanthella, said:
“The valuable exchange visit showed there are genuine business co-operation opportunities for both Argyll and Bute and Amberg-Sulzbach to learn from each other particularly in the areas of forestry, tourism and food and drink. Although faced by challenges the Bavarian district has also done a lot to encourage its industrial sector.”
Culture and young people also played an important part of the itinerary with the Council’s visit coinciding with the first leg of a youth exchange project with 10 young people from Oban, Bute and Helensburgh spending a week meeting with Bavarian young peoples.
The programme included workshops on health and well-being as well as canoeing, climbing and a trip to the city of Munich. A return visit by the German group to Argyll and Bute is scheduled for Easter next year.