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Foreign investment in Flanders withstood COVID-19 in 2020

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 reached a historic level, while the number of new R&D jobs created by foreign investors tripled. Flanders’ Minister-President Jan Jambon announced these figures on 28 January 2021, based on analyses by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT).

Four striking trends in the 2020 figures

In the final figures, 4 trends are particularly striking, while representing a break with the results of previous years:

1. The share of European investments in Flanders 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.

2. The Netherlands takes over from the US as top investor in Flanders

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.

Top 10 foreign investors in Flanders in 2020 (based on number of projects)

Ranking Country of origin #FDI projects
1 Netherlands 42 projects
2 US 37 projects
3 UK 30 projects
4 Germany 24 projects
5 France 23 projects
6 China 11 projects
7 Japan 10 projects
8 Switzerland 5 projects
  Turkey 5 projects
10 Finland 4 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 place 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 and Finland.

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 relations between Flanders and our northern neighbors.

Jan Jambon
Minister-President of Flanders

3. Two in three foreign investments in Flanders 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).

4. One in five new jobs created by foreign investors are 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%).

In the aftermath of COVID-19, many investment projects have been delayed due to lockdowns worldwide. Moreover, the prospects of a deep recession have led various firms to reconsider their investment projects. Still, Flanders continues to hold its own as an attractive investment location, especially for innovative players. For example, 1 in 5 jobs created by foreign companies in Flanders in 2020 was linked to R&D.

Claire Tillekaerts
CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade

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.

Analyzing the main FDI figures in the face of COVID-19: number of new jobs and projects remained on track in 2020

Despite COVID-19, Flanders held up better than projected 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). Meanwhile, the number of new projects came in at 224 (down 13.18% from 258 projects in 2019). However, this number is still the 3rd-highest in the last 5 years. What is more, the figures for both newly created jobs and newly launched projects are more favorable than expected: in Europe and globally, decreases of 25% to 40% were predicted.

Want to discover more? Get a detailed overview of Flanders’ direct foreign investment (FDI) results, trends and evolutions through the years.

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Flanders Investment & Trade
Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
28 January 2021

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