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Meet the Consul
Dear Mr. Zimmer, where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kufstein in the state of Tyrol on May 13, 1956 but actually grew up in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, where we moved to when I was two years old. What brought you initially to the United States, and how did you end up in South Carolina? My family owned the Austrian machinery company ZIMMER AUSTRIA manufacturing textile printing machines. ZIMMER AUSTRIA has had a branch office in Spartanburg since 1970. I transferred over to this office in 1984. The original plan was to stay only for one or two years.
You are the founder and CEO of Zimmer America. Would you like to share some details about your company?
In 1985, I bought the U.S.-branch office from ZIMMER AUSTRIA and started Zimmer America Corporation as an industrial representation company. The plan was originally to represent ZIMMER AUSTRIA in North America. Soon thereafter, however, we started representing other European machinery companies in the textile manufacturing field and later in other business areas as well.
How long have you been serving as the Honorary Consul for Austria and how did that come about?
I was asked to serve as the Austrian Honorary Consul in 2011 and was sworn into office in 2012. My predecessor Mr. Bob Friedl had just passed away the year prior. During his time, the Austrian Consulate was located outside Charlotte, North Carolina. When I became Honorary Consul, the Consulate was moved to Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
Could you share some aspects and highlights of your work as Honorary Consul: Are there any special, interesting stories you would like to share with our readers?
So far my work as Austrian Honorary Consul has been very rewarding and has in many ways been a continuation of the work I have done for many years: Representing my home country Austria in the Carolinas and bringing people from Austria together with the business and cultural community in the Carolinas and vice versa.
Is there a big Austrian community in South Carolina? Are you in touch with the expats living in the area?
The Austrian expat community in the Carolinas is quite large and growing. We have several hundred email contacts of Austrians living in the Carolinas on our mailing list. I make it a point to gather as many expats as possible for the occasion of the Austrian National Day on October 26. Every year we have alternating venues between Spartanburg and Charlotte.
Do you know of any connection between Austria and the Carolinas? Are there any Austrian traces or influences?
The connections are numerous and diverse. For instance, the very influential mayor of Greenville, South Carolina,Mr.Max Heller, was an Austrian immigrant. He has passed away now but was very active in bringing Greenville’s downtown back to life in the 1970s and 1980s after shopping malls had practically destroyed and emptied many downtown areas of small and middle sized cities all over the U.S. Through his European eyes he saw the potential and revived the city.
Today Greenville is thriving and one of the fastest growing downtown areas of the United States. I am sure that the added quality of life has also influenced the decision of BMW to move to South Carolina fifteen years ago. The company’s largest manufacturing plant outside of Germany is located just between Spartanburg and Greenville. Many Austrians are among the 4,000 associates of the BMW plant.
How would you compare life in South Carolina with life in Austria?
I think one of the things that originally attracted me to this area was that in many ways the Upstate, as it is called in South Carolina, reminded me of the area I grew up in back in Austria. A beautiful countryside, rolling mountains, the Appalachians and beautiful, clean lakes is what I know from Austria and discovered here again. The warmth and friendliness of the Carolina people is also something I would like to point out, as Austrians are also known for their hospitality and friendliness.
Is there anything about Austria that you miss in particular?
Austria has remained my home in many ways, as has Spartanburg. I often travel to Austria to maintain my contacts also for business. But especially with my young family, daughter Julia and son Heinrich, we go back to Austria for summer and winter vacations to make sure that the ties to the homeland of their father remain strong and alive. We can truly say we experience the best of both worlds.
Roland JP Zimmer was born in Kufstein, Austria in 1956. He started working for the American branch office of ZIMMER AUSTRIA, a family business, in 1984. The same year, he bought the U.S. branch office and founded Zimmer America Corporation. In 2011, Roland Zimmer was appointed Honorary Consul for Austria, with representation for the area of North and South Carolina. Roland lives with his wife and two children in Spartanburg, South Carolina.