Government agency Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) has been created to promote sustainable international businesses, both by attracting foreign investors and supporting the development of Flemish companies abroad. Dispersed over more than 100 offices across the main economic centres in the world, FIT plays a key role in the social and economic development of Flanders. Claire Tillekaerts, CEO, discusses the role of the agency in the Flemish economy, highlighting the investment opportunities that the region offers.
European Times: What are the main characteristics of the Flanders Region?
Claire Tillekaerts: Flanders is one of the three independently-governed regions, stated in the North of Belgium. As capital of this region, Brussels incorporates the most important international institutions including NATO, the EU Parliament and many other major public and private international institutions, making Flanders the gateway to Europe.
Flanders represents a home to a wide range of creative and innovative companies, due to the openness of the Flemish people to new ideas and influences, creating thriving communities. Considering the location of the region, the strongly developed infrastructure, the high purchasing power and the numerous innovative clusters, Flanders is the ideal test market for innovations and new products for local and foreign companies.
European Times: What is the main role of FIT?
Claire Tillekaerts: FIT facilitates the investment projects in Flanders and assists, supports and stimulates the Flemish companies to expand internationally. The agency ensures a tailor-made approach for potential foreign investors, focusing on the business opportunities that the region offers. FIT also provides free advice, guidance and business expertise, access to the global network of companies, stimulation of partnerships between the domestic and international companies, and provision of financial support for the Flemish exporters.
European Times: What are some of the activities that FIT undertakes to attract foreign investments?
Claire Tillekaerts: We organize more than 120 activities that refer to this pillar, mainly focused on the promotion of the Flemish investment opportunities, logistic assets, innovation and the quality of life. We organize road shows in different regions and sectors in the world, as well as seminars and high-level events.
The agency provides free expert support and introduction to the local companies, banks and regulators, organizes site visits to the real estate locations and assists with the legal aspects of setting up a business.
European Times: What are some of the activities to support the development of the Flanders’ exports sector?
Claire Tillekaerts: Belgium ranks in the top 15 exporting countries in the world and Flanders provides 83% of the overall Belgium exports and imports. In order to reach the region’s trade goals, FIT performs more than 150 activities annually including participation on exhibitions in different parts of the world and organization of economic missions and seminars.
In order to reward the most successful export companies, FIT gives an award “The Lion of the Export” to two companies on annual basis. The agency supports the development of the Flemish export companies with tailor made programs, including preparation of export plan, mini audits and allocation of funds to finance the expansion of the company. We also guide the companies by providing market intelligence, like infrastructure opportunities in the world or trade proposals and tenders worldwide.
European Times: Which are the most prominent clusters of the Region?
Claire Tillekaerts: In terms of internationalization our strategy is to reach the top five rankings by 2020, by attracting foreign investors capable to strengthen and develop the clusters into major international players.
Flanders ranks among the world’s elite when it comes to R&D, supporting and promoting the innovative clusters into leading positions in the world. This is supported by the highly developed strategic research centres including imec, VIB, Flanders Make and VITO, working in close partnerships with the internationally renowned universities, such as ULeuven, UGent, UAntwerpen, VUB and UHasselt. Belgium (Flanders) is second in Europe when it comes to clinical trials per capita, and boasts one of the world’s fastest approval time for clinical trials.
Easily accessible and centrally located, the Port of Antwerp is the second largest petro-chemical cluster in the world. The port includes five oil refineries, four steam crackers and 500 chemical companies, providing a diversified portfolio of more than 300 different chemicals. The Port of Antwerp also provides a state-of-the-art pipeline network that facilitates product interchange.
European Times: Why should foreign investors choose Flanders?
Claire Tillekaerts: Flanders is the first and best choice when it comes to business environment considering that we are close to the Europe’s institutions and the purchasing power. We are the fourth most productive workforce in the world with cutting-edge infrastructure where a business can be set up in only four days. We have an outstanding living environment, affordable housing and warehousing opportunities, well established education and healthcare system.
In this context, FIT provides tailored approach and assistance in every step of the process of developing international businesses. If you consider the business climate, the service and the quality of life, Flanders is an excellent choice for every investor!