Dr. Nicole Grünewald
A conversation with Dr. Grünewald, head of the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She is talking to the CCB about the event industry, the effects of the corona pandemic and also what has impressed and annoyed her in these hard times.
Dr. Grünewald, you started your new job as President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) at the very start of the pandemic. What new challenges did this pose for you?
Yes, the curve was steep. But it also provided an opportunity to show what the chamber of commerce and industry can do in times of crisis. Businesses need a strong voice as well as an expert point of contact for their questions and needs. Our Covid hotline has been there seven days a week for our member businesses, especially in the chaotic early days – and we were able to communicate our members’ concerns to politics at a local, state, and even federal level.
The trade fair and event business collapsed from one day to the next due to COVID restrictions. And the situation is not much better in the hotel and creative industries. Who are you most worried about?
The events of the last year are incomprehensible. We are here for businesses in the affected sectors. I use video conferencing, among other things, to talk to them and keep abreast of developments. Hearing about what is happening gets under my skin, and I worry about all the businesses that have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. It really annoys me that applying for grant aid is so complicated and that it sometimes takes months to arrive. What is more, I can't understand why businesses are being saddled with even more red tape in times of crisis. It’s just not on.
What are the prospects for the event industry? How will these be worked out with the IHK?
The worst thing is that the way ahead for businesses in this sector isn’t clear either. Yet the sector is really important for Cologne! I am extremely impressed with the ideas our businesses [DE] have come up with. Our job is to lobby politicians and the authorities to implement them. But this is proving somewhat difficult due to the new waves of infection, the high incidence rates, and the resulting uncertainty. Vaccinations provide the surest route to reopening the events sector, but for that we need vaccine.
What needs to be prioritised this year – for organizers, hoteliers and restauranteurs?
In the short term, grants need to be paid so businesses can survive. One thing is clear and that is that businesses don’t want people to catch Covid. I expect politicians and the authorities to trust our businesses. There are lots of good concepts awaiting approval. Regarding Cologne's designation as a model region, this will hopefully pick up speed. And we will do everything in our power to support our businesses in this.
You are the first female president in the history of the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce. At the helm of the IHK, can you help ensure there are more women in management positions?
Increasing the number of female leaders, is a matter that is close to my heart. The keys here are sensible framework conditions, proper networking, and greater visibility for women in top positions. That's what I'm campaigning for in politics and in public – and I encourage young women in particular to set up companies, pursue careers and aim for leadership positions. In principle, anything is possible, but as a woman, it sometimes takes a bit more staying power.
Imagining for a minute that things are just as they were before the pandemic – what favourite spot in Cologne would you head for?
My favourite place in Cologne is the Cathedral’s crossing tower. Standing up there looking out across a vibrant city again, where no one has to worry about keeping distances or the availability of vaccines, would really be a dream come true.