Editor’s note: Positioning for the future, but taking care of the here and now

September 18, 2011

The public relations team from the German industrial conglomerate Siemens paid a visit last week, and when I say team, I mean assembled around the table were enough people to field a soccer side.

The delegation was led by Camille Johnston who took over as vice president for corporate affairs after serving as Michelle Obama’s director of communications. The PR reps took turns going over major projects and I couldn’t help but be impressed at how the company has positioned itself to be in the middle of some of the biggest public works initiatives of our time.

Wind power, gas turbines, solar arrays, nuclear power. Siemens does it all, and the company is keen to play a role in any wind project that might be erected off our mid-Atlantic coast.

Health IT. Obamacare. Siemens has a strategy to deliver the necessary technology and medical “solutions.”

High-speed rail. Can do. It landed a $466 million contract to build locomotives for Amtrak.

Smartgrids. Microgrids. The company formed a strategic partnership with Boeing to create systems for the Defense Department.

Math and science education. Siemens sponsors a prestigious high school academic competition and partners with Discovery Communications, the College Board and others to improve our national know-how.

Here is a company, like General Electric, poised to play a major role in the future. But I couldn’t help thinking about how uncertain its prospects seem these days as whole chunks of the globe grapple with economic upheaval.

That unpredictability is one of the reasons why Siemens recently relocated its U.S. headquarters from New York to Washington. Like Northrop Grumman and so many other contractors these days, everyone wants to be near the customer, close to the center of procurement and the legislative and regulatory processes that shape it.

Siemens may be based in Germany, but a large part of its revenue comes from our side of the pond. In pursuing business here, it is following the same global strategy as other multinationals. GE recently made a move to expand operations in Germany. Everyone seems to be targeting China.

Big projects come with big stakes, and these days, the competition is intense.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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