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Foreign investment in Flanders withstands COVID-19 and creates three times as many R&D jobs

PRESS RELEASE – Brussels, 28 January 2021  

In 2020, foreign companies launched 224 new investment projects in Flanders, generating 4,717 new jobs. Both results are down 13% from 2019 but represent a better outcome than expected and predicted, given the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, some striking trends stand out. For example, the share of European investments in Flanders reaches a historic level, while the number of new R&D jobs created by foreign investors tripled. Flanders’ Minister-President Jan Jambon announced these figures today based on analyses by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), the government agency that attracts and guides foreign investors.  

Four noticeable trends 

Four particular trends are evident in the final figures, representing a break with the results of previous years: 

  • the share of European investments is historically high; 
  • the Netherlands is taking over the lead from the US, which in recent years has been at the top of the list of most important countries of origin for investments in Flanders; 
  • more than two out of three foreign investment projects are greenfield projects, i.e. started from scratch in Flanders; 
  • the number of new R&D jobs created by foreign direct investment has tripled compared to 2019. Consequently, one out of five jobs was linked to R&D.  

Share of European investments is historically high 

The share of European investments in Flanders has never been higher than in 2020. With 151 projects or 67.41% of the total number of investments, this represents a further consolidation of the already historically high level of 2019 (67.05%). What’s more, European investment projects created 3,379 jobs last year, an increase of 1.41% compared to 2019. As a result, the share of jobs created by European investments reached a record high of no less than 71.63% in 2020 compared to 61.89% in 2019.  

The Netherlands takes over from the US as top investor 

For years, the US has been the most important country of origin for foreign investments in Flanders. This changed in 2020: companies from the Netherlands – after five years in second place – took the lead with 42 investment projects (18.75%).  

Furthermore, the top 10 list of investment origins mainly consists of familiar faces: the US (37 projects), the UK (30 projects), Germany (24 projects), France (23 projects), China (11 projects), Japan (10 projects ) and Switzerland (5 projects).  

Together, Flanders’ neighbors – the Netherlands, UK, Germany and France – account for more than half of all foreign investment projects in the region. The UK’s 3rd place in the ranking is particularly noteworthy. 2020 is the 2nd year in a row where British firms are among the top 3 foreign investors in Flanders, a result that’s mainly due to the impact of Brexit.  

Furthermore, after an earlier decline in 2019, China and Japan are gaining importance again as foreign investors in Flanders. Notable newcomers to the top 10 are Turkey (with 5 projects, sharing 8th place with Switzerland) and Finland (in 10th place with 4 projects). 

2 in 3 projects are greenfield projects 

More than 2 out of 3 foreign investments in Flanders come from companies that started their activities in the region from scratch. The share of greenfield projects amounted to a whopping 67.41% in 2020 compared to 55.81% in 2019. The share of mergers and acquisitions experienced a decline and fell to 18.75% from 30.62% in 2019, while expansion projects remained at a share of 13.84% (the same as in 2019).  

1 in 5 new jobs is linked to R&D 

In terms of economic activities, no major shifts occurred. Like previous years, 2020 saw foreign companies on Flanders’ soil investing mainly in sales and marketing activities (30.36% versus 32.95% in 2019), manufacturing (23.66% versus 19.77%), logistics (20.54% versus 18.22%) and R&D (19.20% versus 22.48%).  

What is striking, however, is the fact that the number of jobs related to investments in R&D has tripled compared to 2019: from 300 to 898 (from 5.57% to 19.04%). Put differently: of all the new jobs created by foreign investment in Flanders in 2020, 1 in 5 was linked to R&D

Number of new jobs and projects remains on track  

Despite COVID-19, Flanders held up better than predicted in terms of foreign direct investment in 2020. Newly created employment from foreign investment fell only slightly in 2020, from 5,384 to 4,717 jobs (down 12.39% from 2019).  

The number of new investment projects came in at 224 (down 13.18% from 258 projects in 2019). However, this number is still the third highest in the last five years. Moreover, this is in line with the most recent average score (226.4 projects per year, measured over five years).  

Both results are more favorable than expected: in Europe and globally, decreases of 25% to even 40% were predicted, respectively.  

Compared to 2019, the total investment amount did go down from EUR 5.20 billion to EUR 2.39 billion. On the one hand, this decrease is due to the global economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, 2018 and 2019 – with total investment amounts of EUR 4.24 billion and EUR 5.2 billion, respectively – were considered exceptional record years. At the time, unprecedented amounts were invested in Flanders’ economy from abroad, especially by the chemical industry.  

As such, the final result for 2020 brings foreign direct investment in Flanders up to the level of the period just before 2018.  


In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous investment projects have been delayed due to lockdowns worldwide. In addition, the prospects of a deep recession have led many international companies to reconsider planned and new investment projects. Nevertheless, Flanders continues to hold its own as an attractive investment location, especially for innovative companies. For example, 1 in 5 jobs created in the region in 2020 by foreign investment was linked to R&D.”  

- Claire Tillekaerts (CEO Flanders Investment & Trade)

I am delighted that, despite the COVID-19 crisis, Flanders is holding out in terms of attracting foreign investment. Something that stands out is the first place of Dutch firms in the ranking of top foreign investors in Flanders. This result confirms the excellent cooperation and economic relations between Flanders and our northern neighbors, a connection to which the Government of Flanders strongly commits. In addition, we remain firmly committed to attracting investments from the other top source countries, such as the US, and from other countries with companies that want to establish a presence and grow in Flanders.”  

- Jan Jambon (Minister-President of Flanders)

Press contact 

Tine Van Valckenborgh
Flanders Investment & Trade spokesperson 

M. +32 499 24 60 93  

About FIT and foreign direct investment in Flanders  

International companies reap diverse rewards when deciding to invest in Flanders. As a major logistics crossroads at the heart of Europe’s purchasing power, Flanders is the place to be for companies with pan-European ambitions. The region is also known for the close collaboration between its private, public and academic sectors – making it fertile ground for innovative research and development activities in some of the most advanced technological niches. Flanders Investment & Trade introduces international players to Flanders, informs them of interesting financial incentives and offers tailored guidance for investment projects. 

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) actively promotes sustainable international business in Flanders as a key element of the region’s socioeconomic development. FIT accomplishes this by supporting Flanders-based companies in their international business ventures and by attracting foreign investors. FIT assists businesses across Flanders in their international endeavors and provides custom advice and support. Companies can rely on the agency’s local and international networks of contacts, while FIT also offers financial support and information about the financial incentives available. 

27 January 2021