Voka – Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the province of Flemish Brabant, originated from a merger between Voka Leuven and Voka Halle-Vilvoorde, two communities with different DNA, separated by the ring of Brussels. The landscape around Leuven has many family-driven companies with a traditional of value driven production, and the members of Voka Leuven were traditionally family owned enterprises. The Chamber of Commerce of Vilvoorde serviced members from the area, with its proximity to Zaventem airport and Brussels, the capital of Belgium and Europe. The merger brought many advantages, such as needing only one head of services to serve two districts. Representing more than 2.500 companies in Flemish Brabant, Voka Flemish Brabant is the province’s largest entrepreneurial network.
Managing Director Peter Van Biesbroeck, who used to work at the leading corporation in Leuven AB-Inbev, discusses Voka Flemish Brabant’s goals as well as the regional advantages and challenges.
European Times: As the largest Chamber of Commerce in the province, what are Voka Flemish Brabant’s main priorities and services?
Peter Van Biesbroeck: Voka Flemish Brabant is the most influential professional employers’ organization in the region of East-Brabant. We strive to provide a platform where all the social-economic partners can meet and communicate about relevant themes. We are part of the Voka alliance, which has more than 18.000 members and a mission to create the optimal framework for successful entrepreneurship. Voka is the most influential professional network of entrepreneurs and the representative organization of companies in Flanders, thereby contributing fundamentally to the prosperity and well-being of the region.
Above all, Voka is a network organization which connects members; our aim is to unite entrepreneurs and give them a voice. Through the numerous activities on our agenda, including seminars and workshops, members get the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs and managers. Many of these activities are offered free of charge or at a reduced price for members. Our events, services and projects aim to strengthen the quality, added value and viability of business through three main pillars: lobbying, networking and service. Furthermore, through our monthly magazine Entrepreneurs, our newsletters, website, social media channels and the Voka app, we seek to keep members informed and provide reliable information on economic news, companies, inspirational role models and Voka’s operations and activities.
Voka is not to be confused with a compulsory Chamber of Commerce where it is mandatory for companies to register, such as in the Netherlands. Our Chamber services companies that are voluntary members and believe in the added value and various services that we provide, including legal counselling and advice on accounting or tax issues, as well as support for HR and export related issues and documents, legal and financial issues.
European Times: Traffic congestion is one of the main challenges in the region. What are your plans for resolving this issue?
Peter Van Biesbroeck: The biggest challenge is to improve distribution and transportation through the region. The traffic in and around Brussels is very congested and the region needs solutions to improve the flow of traffic. Nearly 19 of the 26 bottlenecks of this country are in our region; it is a tremendous responsibility and we must put all our forces together to resolve this issue.
The simplest solution is to promote transportation via the water ways and to motivate transportation companies to make full use of the water ways. With roads that are becoming increasingly more congested and canals with a lot of free capacity, this is the simplest way to get containers off the road and onto the water.With some adjustments in the height of the bridges and the quays, a lot of traffic can be diverted to the water ways, which can connect Belgium with its neighbours and the most important rivers in Europe.
European Times: What are Leuven’s major advantages?
Peter Van Biesbroeck: Leuven is a great place for doing business, with excellent dynamics between the local government, the university and the business community. Thanks to the university, Leuven has traditionally been a place where the best brains of the country come together. The university, the political leaders and the business community have remarkable cooperation, which is why Leuven has above average performance.
Today we market Leuven as the MindGate of Belgium, and the city has become a leader in innovation and technology, especially in the field of health and bio technology. The university hospital UZ Leuven plays a crucial role in the development of the health sector technology. Labelled as a ‘city within a city’, the hospital employs 7.000 people in 19 different hospital departments. It’s a great endorser for spin off and helps Leuven to develop a real health hub, fortifying the city as one of the main health tourism centres in Belgium.
I would like to invite more foreign investors to come to Leuven and utilize the synergy of our business community.