Berlin trying to bring Harley work to Germany

Head of business attraction organization sent letter to company

A poster from Berlin Partner encouraging Harley to consider the city.

The head of a business attraction organization in Berlin is trying to convince Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. to move some work to the German capital.

A poster from Berlin Partner encouraging Harley to consider the city.

Stefan Franzke, chief executive officer of Berlin Partner for Business and Technology, described Berlin as a “dynamic economic location” and “the city of freedom,” in a letter to Harley chief executive Matthew Levatich.

The letter, dated July 4, invited the company to consider moving production to the city, noting BMW already has 2,000 employees in the city producing 150,000 motorcycles annually. BMW is among Harley’s major competitors.

“I am sure that we could not only offer publically funded programs as an incentive to relocate in Berlin,” Franzke wrote. “We will also be able to offer the tailor-made solution which serves exactly the needs of your company.”

Lukas Breitenbach, a spokesman for Berlin Partner, said in an email the organization had not received an answer but records indicated the letter has arrived at Harley.

A Harley spokesman declined to comment on the letter and reiterated the company’s securities filings lay out its position on European tariffs.

Harley announced last month it would move some production overseas in response to the European Union’s decision to increase tariffs on motorcycles from 6 percent to 31 percent. The increase came in response to Trump increasing steel and aluminum tariffs.

The company estimated the European tariffs would add an average of $2,200 to the cost of a motorcycle sold in Europe. Harley determined it could not pass the costs on to customers and dealers and remain competitive. Instead, the company plans to absorb the increased cost in the short-term and shift production overseas during the next nine to 18 months.

Facilities in Thailand, India and Brazil are expected to absorb the additional production. Harley has built motorcycles in Brazil since the late 1990s and uses the facilities, in part, to avoid tariffs in other countries.

Since announcing the decision, Harley has been a frequent target of Trump on Twitter and during remarks at the Foxconn groundbreaking.

Franzke called Harley’s decision to produce overseas “the only sustainable option to make your motorcycles accessible to customers in the E.U. and maintain a viable business in Europe.”

Breitenbach said Franzke heard about Harley’s decision and wanted to reach out to Levatich directly.

“Harley-Davidson is not a motorcycle like all the others. With their Harley-Davidsons drivers associate a very special feeling of freedom. Admittedly, the Straße des 17. Juni is not Route 66, but Berlin stands for freedom like no other city in the world,” Breitenbach wrote.

He added the organization has not reached out to other companies like Levi’s because it has not heard of specific relocation plans.

“If this changes we will also write to (Levi’s president and CEO) Chip Bergh,” Breitenbach wrote. “And every other CEO who decides not to subject his company policy to populism and isolation.”

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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