[ Contents ]
Creating jobs in rural areas
LEADER, a forum for the initiatives of the Vogelsberg
The job centre
Animation, training, counselling, networking...
The local action group of the Vogelsberg,
in Germany, has been at the forefront of
project support, putting employment at the
top of the agenda. Here, the acronym "L.E.A.D.E.R.",
"Links between Actions for the Development
of the Rural Economy", means just that.
"LEADER I came at the right place at the right time," says Hans-
Ulrich Lipphardt, elected councillor of the administrative district
of the Vogelsberg. "In the mid-1980s, the district set up a 'Work and Environment' Task
Force. It came up with an array of ideas that became reality a few
years later thanks to a combination of regional, national and
European instruments such as the Hessen programme for the renovation
of villages and, of course, LEADER. The Volgelsberg was one of the
first districts in Hessen to adopt the area-based, integrated and
bottom-up approach to development.
We also understood that we had to 'think networking': how could a
very rural area like ours, a little off the beaten track, take
advantage of European networks? Furthermore, how could we mobilise
all the socio-economic players in the area, rising above the
political sensitivities and different interests? It is precisely to
tackle problems like these that we have built this approach, thanks
in great part to LEADER."
"LEADER" is therefore quite simply the name and "GmbH" (limited
liability company) the legal status that was chosen for what has
become a fully-fledged development agency. The local action group
(LAG) forms the core of this agency, whose governing board comprises
representatives of the District, the 19 towns, the chambers of
commerce and industry and a large number of local organisations from
all horizons, sectors and tendencies.
An area of medium mountains northeast of Frankfurt, the Vogelsberg
is the archetype of an Objective 5b area in Germany: no
desertification, very relative isolation - motorways are never that
far away -, an average unemployment rate comparable to or even less
than the national average (12%), etc. But there is considerable
underemployment, many commuters, struggling farmers and problems of
mobility for the categories of the population most vulnerable
socially and professionally, especially young people and women. "We
have allocated two million euros to create employment," points out
Thomas Schaumberg, director of LEADER GmbH, before adding: "it is
estimated that some sixty jobs will be created at the end of LEADER
II, but it is impossible to really put a figure on the number of
jobs created by the Initiative: in addition to helping individual
holders of projects - over one hundred between 1995 and 1998 - our
task also consists first and foremost in 'preparing the ground' for
the long term, creating conditions favourable to sustainable
employment in the future... Just this evening I was at a meeting
with some forty local inventors who we are helping; we were
discussing patents: when is the best time and what is the best way
to file a patent? It is another very important matter for us,
because today's inventions are tomorrow's jobs."
Here, the focal point of the LEADER programme is support for
businesses. "Tourism is important," assures Thomas Schaumberg, "but
more in terms of image than in terms of employment - we must 'sell'
the fact that the Vogelsberg is the largest area of volcanoes in
Europe, for example. Small and medium-sized businesses are our
biggest strength. We have a lot of them and many of them export..."
These SMEs are generally industrial firms. That is perhaps why most
of the people interviewed about LEADER's role often used technical
metaphors like "engine", "current" or "lever".
Peter Thomas runs the Hartmann company (75 employees) which is owned
by a social foundation in Frankfurt and specialised in the
customised transformation of commercial vehicles. This coachbuilder
makes all kinds of vehicles for travelling services, meaning the
vehicles are often intended for the countryside: delivery vans or
vans for travelling markets, "library bus", "bank bus" used by the
local savings bank, "health bus" to serve as a mobile dispensary,
The first contact the Hartmann firm had with LEADER was in 1993 when
it participated along with 17 other businesses from the Vogelsberg
in a training course on quality control organised by the LAG. The
aim was to obtain the ISO 9001 standard which certifies quality work
in all the phases of production of a product or service - design,
development, manufacture, installation and after-sales service. In
short, it is a genuine "quality passport" for a company, especially
if it wants to access the subcontracting market or process products
of well-known manufacturers as is the case of Hartmann.
A few years later, the coachbuilder was to "inherit" a project full
of challenges and difficulties that often have to be faced when
implementing a bona fide innovation in the agri-food sector. "In
1996, LEADER GmbH and a group of organic farmers and butchers came
to see us about building a mobile abattoir," explains Peter Thomas.
"Not only did they want to reduce the number of middlemen, but they
also wanted a quality approach to avoid the transport of animals
which causes stress and has a negative effect on the meat. We were
immediately interested in the project, because it is extremely
innovative: as far as we know, there is only one example of this
type of product, in England. Unfortunately, we calculated that
building a prototype would cost an estimated 500 000 euros, a sum
and a risk that a small business like ours cannot assume all by
The project is a particularly risky one, because it concerns a
product intended for an activity that is highly regulated at all
levels. The sanitary and environmental rules and regulations
applying to abattoirs are obviously very rigid and only apply at the
moment to fixed abattoirs. For a mobile abattoir, there is a legal
vacuum. That is why the project holders had to step up their
administrative contacts with the European Commission, the German
federal government, the authorities of the Land of Hessen, the
veterinary services of the Vogelsberg, etc. "And for a long time all
these institutions each tried to pass the buck," deplores Peter
Thomas. "We found ourselves in a real Catch-22 situation because
without the green light of each of the authorities concerned, the
mobile abattoir could not be built, and if the system was not
actually built, it was not possible to judge it. So for the various
authorities, no specific regulation could be introduced...
But the final obstacles are gradually being removed, and things
should start moving... I reckon that we are about halfway into the
The mobile abattoir envisaged by the coachbuilder consists of a van
set up as a veterinary office and laboratory. Attached to this is a
trailer, the abattoir per se, which can be expanded upwards and
outwards so that both pigs and cows can be handled (it would be
possible to slaughter about a hundred animals a day). The technical
design has been completed, and the plans and model of the mechanism
have been finalised.
If the project is only half complete after more than two years, it
is because the promoters also had to overcome the initial hostility
of the large regional abattoirs, convince certain butchers and drum
up support for the cause from the parliamentarians of Hessen, etc.
Peter Thomas says: "LEADER did everything we didn't have time to do:
refine the initial idea, carry out a viability study, obtain public
funding to help finance the creation of prototypes, find us a
technical partner - the Vogt firm, specialised in abattoir equipment
-, endorse and support our contacts with the institutions..."
The project, which would immediately create five new jobs at
Hartmann while consolidating the activity of some fifteen farms, is
an extreme case that only a seasoned local action group can hope to
bring to a successful completion. LEADER GmbH has proven over time
that it knows how to manage complex situations.
Since 1994, the LAG has been helping to organise sectors like
organic meat or cheese, working with the various players concerned
to mobilise, bring together and professionalise producers and even
create marketing platforms. Thus LEADER I supported the opening in
Alsfeld of a "Bio-Halle", an outlet that sells the products of some
forty organic farmers. Since then, three other shops have been
opened in Frankfurt, in Kassel and in Giessen. LEADER II backed a
large-scale operation, "Dialogue and Marketing", which led to the
creation of the "Fuchsh¯fe" (Fox Farms) selling group. Owned by ten
non-industrial cheese dairies, this group supplies 120 shops in a
100-kilometre radius. It employs 4 full-time and 8 part-time
workers, and a new position has been created in each of the
participating cheese dairies.
In an entirely different field, LEADER II has helped create
"SoulNet", one of the first Internet service providers in Germany to
use satellite technology that offers total freedom of connection.
"For example, stands at an exhibition can be instantaneously
equipped with an Internet site," says Udo Ornik, director of the
business. "LEADER has helped us financially - about ECU 50 000 - but
it has also opened the doors of key institutions like the University
of Marburg, which is working with us on certain technical aspects."
Thomas Batz, one of the three young computer specialists who is a
partner in the venture completes the picture: "Now, we are seeing
the first returns on the investment: not only is the Vogelsberg no
longer structurally behind in telematics, but it now has state-of-
the-art technologies which are already generating new business. For
example, the UBS-Hainer company, which manages the data of very
large firms from a distance, has relocated its main service provider
from Berlin to Lauterbach, creating 10 jobs here."
"A qualification offensive"
In addition to lending technical assistance to businesses and
entrepreneurs, LEADER GmbH has been busy helping with the training,
qualification and employment of specific groups (see inset). Women
are of course a target of this action, and LEADER has already been
involved in several operations for them. "In addition to a large-
scale action for women wanting to set up their own business, there
is the 'Qualification offensive' project jointly supported by the
District, Land, European Social Fund and LEADER," says Thomas
Schaumberg. "The purpose is to provide women working in small
businesses with more skills. Often they have responsibilities but
receive no formal recognition for these duties. They can take
further education courses in management, law, accounting, etc. and
upon successful completion are awarded a real diploma. Their skills
are structured, and they may receive a promotion."
For the outside observer and perhaps for Sabine Berger, the person
in charge, the "AST" project ("Anruf Sammel Taxi" / Calling Service
for Sharing Taxis) is the most spectacular of these actions
combining employment and mobility.
In 1993, a meeting was organised with the women's associations of
the Vogelsberg. The purpose was to tackle the problematic shortage
of public transport, a problem from which women are the first to
suffer. "A working group was set up. It prepared a questionnaire
that it sent out to all the households in the district to find out
about inadequate timetables, routes, etc," explains Sabine Berger.
"We received and processed several hundred answers. On the one hand,
the bus services organised to go to the two town centres of Alsfeld
and Lauterbach turned out to be largely underused outside commuting
times. On the other hand, there was a great need for service between
certain remote villages that was not being satisfied. From this
conclusion came the idea of killing two birds with one stone: new
bus routes would be created... with women in the driving seat."
Women bus drivers
As is always the case, people first had to be won over: "at the
time, there were only two women driving buses - the daughters of a
bus driver," remembers Sabine. "The owners were strongly opposed to
having women drivers". The transport companies' reservations were
only overcome when it was guaranteed that the project would pay for
all the training and wages of the student drivers. The participation
of the European Social Fund, the District's "Work and Social
Assistance" programme and the Hessen Board of Transport was going to
lead to the creation in 1994 of a two-year paid training programme
in which participants would be able to obtain the "passenger
transport" licence, then the "qualified bus driver" licence.
Out of 50 women applicants, 10 were selected. Two of them were 19
and 20 years old while the others were between 30 and 40 and all had
at least two children. Some were among the long-term unemployed,
others were women returners. The training course lasted from April
1994 to the end of 1996. During the first three months (period
necessary to obtain the driving licence), the weekly schedule
consisted of three days of theory and three days of training on the
job. After this, there were two days of theory and three days of
actual work in a transport company.
While the training was going on, 12 new bus routes were started up.
"Some operate according to a call system," explains Sabine Berger,
"you arrive, for example, at the train station of Alsfeld and a
minibus comes to pick you up to take you to some village or another,
even if you are the only passenger. The system thus combines the
advantages of the regular bus and taxi service. 14 000 trips were
made in this way in 1997-98..."
Now, eight women have a job, 4 work full time and 4 part time. And
Sabine points out: "without LEADER, the project never would have
existed: the programme and the LAG played a determining role in the
design, coordination, consultation and organisation of the training
programme down to the last detail; a childminding service for the
women participants, for example, was also part of the 'LEADER
package'...For me, it's a great project that has helped solve the
local problem of mobility, create jobs for women and also bring
together around the same table 6 transport companies out of 9 and 12
communities out of 19."
The same strategy is now going to be applied to an action to develop
teleworking launched by the Land of Hessen in March 1999: awareness,
identification of potential workers and interested companies (in the
Vogelsberg and in Frankfurt), training, etc.
"I'm going to tell you how, ideally, we see things," concludes
Thomas Schaumberg: "training at school plus training on the job
equals qualification. In addition to this, there can be life-long
learning. Then there is every chance that business activities and
companies will develop, bringing local development and jobs in their
1 459 km²
118 540 inhabitants
Financing LEADER II (estimate):
ECU 11 500 000
ECU 1 300 000
Other public funds:
ECU 1 300 000
ECU 8 900 000
Tél: +49 66 41 96 46 12
Fax: +49 66 41 96 46 46
source: LEADER Magazine n°20 - Spring, 1999