Claire Tillekaerts (CEO of FIT), Marc Van Gastel (head of Invest at FIT) and John Verzeele (director of Inward Investment at FIT) bring together the most remarkable trends in Flanders’ investment landscape in recent years and share their most memorable moments over the past eight editions of the Foreign Investment Trophy.
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A glance at a decade of foreign investment (and 8 years of the Foreign Investment Trophy) in Flanders
Foreign direct investment in Flanders has grown steadily since the first edition of the Foreign Investment Trophy. Whereas the total investment amount in 2013 was EUR 1.91 billion, this figure has increased to an impressive EUR 5.20 billion in 2019 – a rise of no less than 172%. The number of investment projects has also grown exponentially, from 191 in 2013 to 258 in 2019.
"This high investment rate is partly due to the chemical sector. Our region has many knowledge centers – such as strategic research institutes imec and VIB, and of course our universities – on which this type of businesses can rely,” emphasizes Claire Tillekaerts.
Here are some of our chemistry sector winners and nominees over the past eight years:
- FRX Polymers (US) – At the very first edition of the Foreign Investment Trophy in 2013, the first chemical player was awarded the Investment of the Year Trophy. FRX Polymers built the world's first commercial plant to produce phosphorus-based, fire-retardant polymers in Antwerp.
- Air Liquide (France) – This French firm invested EUR 50 million in a new production unit for carbon monoxide in Antwerp, earning a nomination for the Investment of the Year Trophy in 2014.
- BASF (Germany) – German giant BASF was nominated for the Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy in 2015. Two years later, the company won the Lifetime Achievement Trophy. BASF invests an average of EUR 150 million per year in its Antwerp site.
- Nippon Shokubai (Japan) – In 2016, Japanese company Nippon Shokubai was awarded the Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy at the fourth edition of the Foreign Investment Trophy event.
- Borealis (Austria) – Austrian company Borealis took home the Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy in 2019. The multinational channeled no less than EUR 1 billion into the construction of a new propylene plant at its site at the Port of Antwerp.
- INEOS (UK) – This multinational announced an investment of EUR 3 billion in its existing site at the Port of Antwerp, the largest chemical investment in Europe in two decades. For this dedication, INEOS received the Exceptional Investment Trophy, presented for the first time ever in 2020.
When Nippon Shokubai won the Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy in 2016: that was one of the most moving editions of the event I remember. On stage, the Nippon Shokubai team was incredibly euphoric.
In addition to leading chemical players, Flanders attracts a wide variety of investors from different industries. As such, the past eight editions of the Foreign Investment Trophy have featured companies from long-established and traditional industries as well as novel and innovative domains.
The former category includes sectors such as food and automotive, represented by former nominees and winners such as Barry Callebaut, Snack Food Poco Loco, DAF Trucks and Hyundai. Meanwhile, the latter category includes the digital, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, medtech and nanotech industries – represented by, among others, Inari, Pfizer, Hologic and Brolis, in our Foreign Investment Trophy hall of fame.
US: loyal investor since day one
Almost every year, the US ranks first in the list of top 10 investors in Flanders. It is therefore no surprise that many former nominees and winners at the Foreign Investment Trophy event are from the US – including the likes of Nike, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, FRX Polymers, UPS, ExxonMobil, Inari, Hologic and more. The sectors in which American companies operate in Flanders vary from medtech, oil & gas and pharmaceuticals to plant-based food products.
Another trend that has continued over the past eight years is the strong presence of nearby countries in the top 10. The Netherlands, France and Germany are usually in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place in the list but have switched places from time to time. Borealis (Austria), Evonik (Germany), Danone (France), DAF Trucks (Netherlands/US) and Brolis Semiconductors (Lithuania) were among some of the more recent European nominees and winners that have graced the Foreign Investment Trophy stage.
A striking trend that we have seen since 2015 is the increasing share of investments in Flanders by Asian companies. Over the years, Japan and China have risen in the list of top 10 investor, but South Korea is also increasingly present in our region. What’s more, two Chinese companies made it to our hall of fame (CPMC, Huawei), two South Korean (Hyundai Construction Equipment and Hyundai Mobis) companies have done so, and no fewer than five Japanese investors were nominated for or won a trophy: International Car Operators, Nipro, Daikin, Kaneka and Nippon Shokubai.
Sometimes I meet Trophy nominees or winners at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Their unbelievable appreciation for our work always strikes me. At the same time, our region can learn a lot from these experienced entrepreneurs.
In terms of number of investment projects and new jobs created over the years, companies continue to invest significant amounts in R&D activities. The number of jobs in R&D has grown remarkably over the past few years, a trend that is partly due to the attractive tax regime for the employment of researchers in Flanders. Even more, the region continues to be an attractive R&D investment destination, thanks to its renowned research institutes, universities, highly trained workforce and tight network of innovation clusters.
We all know that competition between countries to attract foreign businesses can be very intense. But once companies decided to invest in Flanders, they keep telling us that they made the best choice and that they intend to stay here in the long term, often even to expand further. Our Foreign Investment Trophy winners and nominees confirm this year after year.