On Friday, Winfried Kretschmann cut the ribbon on a new research and development center built by the chainsaw manufacturer Stihl, located in Waiblingen, a town near Stuttgart in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg.
Outside, 50 demonstrators protested about the destruction of the rain forests. Inside, Mr. Kretschmann, who in 2011 became Germany’s first Green Party state premier, heading a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, praised Stihl’s €90 million, or $100 million, investment, the company’s efforts to reduce emissions, and their new generation of battery-powered chainsaws.
The premier dismissed the rain forest protests as nonsense. You can’t stop making knives just because they can kill people, he said. “Innovation and industry are as much a part of this region as nature,” he added, making an unmistakable gesture of friendship to business ahead of state elections this coming Sunday.
The 67-year-old Mr. Kretschmann is one of the big recent success stories of German politics. In the prosperous southwestern state, which borders Switzerland and France, the Green Party could be about to overtake the center-right Christian Democrats as the largest overall party. Before 2011, the state was the heartland for the conservatives, with the party ruling here continuously for almost 60 years.
Now polls have the two parties neck-and-neck on around 30 percent of the vote. The big losers are Mr. Kretschmann’s junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, whose support has fallen to historic lows of below 20 percent.