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Record number of FDI projects and jobs in Flanders

Flanders once again saw a solid influx of foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2021, international firms launched 295 investment projects and announced 6,233 extra jobs in Flanders, both historically high figures. These record-setting results are respectively due to a sharp increase in the number of mergers & acquisitions and a hefty rise in the number of R&D jobs. In total, foreign companies channeled EUR 2.86 billion into their activities on Flanders’ soil. Zooming in on the 2021 figures, five main trends stand out. Let’s have a look!

2021 was another challenging year for international business. In addition to the ongoing COVID crisis, Brexit, which became a reality at the beginning of 2021, also threatened to throw a spanner in the works. Nevertheless, Flanders managed to convince numerous international companies of its economic strengths.

Claire Tillekaerts
CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade

Trend 1 – The number of US and UK investments is skyrocketing

Various familiar faces pop up in the ranking of top foreign investors in Flanders. After a year in second place, businesses from the US regained their traditional leading position with 64 investment projects, or 21.69% of all foreign investments in the region in 2021. The number of British investments also rose sharply, for the fourth year in a row. As such, the UK takes second place in the list with 49 projects (16.61%), the highest number of direct British investments in Flanders ever in a single year. 

The top 5 is further rounded out by the Netherlands (48 projects or 16.27%), France (24 projects or 8.14%) and Germany (17 projects or 5.76%), thus confirming the reputation of Flanders’ neighboring countries as loyal investors. 

Overall, almost 9 in 10 foreign direct investments in Flanders come from companies based in 11 countries worldwide. Discover the complete ranking below. 

Ranking

Country of origin
 

#FDI projects

1 US  64
2 UK 49
3 Netherlands  48
4 France  24
5 Germany  17
6 Switzerland  12
7 Sweden  10
  Japan  10
9 China  9
10 Italy  7
  Canada  7

Trend 2 – North America is making its comeback

The comeback of the Americas is particularly striking in Flanders’ foreign investment figures. In 2021, almost a quarter (24.75%) of foreign investments in the region came from companies based in North America. This is a strong increase compared to 17.86% in 2020. In absolute terms, the number of projects rose from 40 to 73. 

The number of European investments also went up: from 151 to 189. This corresponds to a share of 64.07% in 2021 versus 67.41% in 2020 when the share of European investments was historically high. The number of projects from Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa remained at 33 in 2021, representing 11.19% of the total number of foreign investments in Flanders compared to 14.73% in 2020. 

Trend 3 – Brexit further boosts British investments in Flanders

At the beginning of 2021, the UK officially left the EU, and Flanders immediately reaffirmed itself as an important gateway to the European single market for UK businesses. As such, Brexit was the deciding factor in crossing the Channel for 30 of the 49 British companies that invested in Flanders in 2021. That is the highest number ever in a single year: nearly 2 out of 3 British investments in Flanders were Brexit-related

Since 2016, at least 95 foreign companies indicated that they decided to invest in Flanders to safeguard their business from the negative impact of Brexit. To date, these projects have generated 3,097 jobs in the region and represent a total investment value of EUR 2.21 billion. 

While we regret the UK’s departure from the EU, it is evident that our region offers some decisive advantages for companies looking to mitigate the negative impact of Brexit. Think, for instance, of our accessible ports, our logistics network and our strategic location in the middle of Europe’s main industrial and commercial centers. In addition, our innovative ecosystem for R&D has enormous appeal. Companies find in Flanders a versatile partner for international success, that much is certain. 

Jan Jambon
Minister-President of Flanders

Trend 4 – One in three investments is a merger or acquisition

For more than half of the foreign investments in Flanders, companies started their operations from scratch. These greenfield projects clocked in at a share of 51.19% in 2021 compared to 67.41% in the previous year. The share of expansion projects remained more or less stable at 16.61% compared to 13.84% in 2020. 

Mergers and acquisitions, on the other hand, made solid headway as a form of investment. Last year, 32.20% – almost 1 in 3 – of new foreign projects in Flanders were mergers or acquisitions, up from 18.75% in 2020. On the investor side, we encounter mostly companies from the UK, the US and Flanders’ neighboring countries. They account for about three-quarters of all M&As in the region. 

In terms of economic activity, there aren’t many shifts. As in previous years, 2021 saw foreign companies mainly investing in Flanders-based sales and marketing activities (28.47% versus 30.36% in 2020), logistics (25.08% versus 20.54%), production (20% versus 23.66%) and R&D activities (20% versus 19.20%). 

Trend 5 – One in four FDI jobs is linked to R&D

In 2021, foreign companies announced a record number of 6,233 new jobs in Flanders. This is an increase of 32.14% over the previous year when foreign investments generated 4,717 additional jobs. The increase is strongest among American, British, and Swedish investors. 

The rise in newly created jobs linked to R&D is particularly striking. These went from 898 in 2020 to 1,700 in 2021, accounting for over 1 in 4 jobs announced by foreign companies in Flanders. Two other important business activities that fueled job creation last year are manufacturing (2,217 jobs) and logistics (1,717 jobs). 

Why Flanders is an attractive investment location
There are many reasons why foreign companies decide to set up their business in Flanders: from the region’s strategic location in the heart of Western Europe to its close-knitted logistics network, its strong R&D ecosystem and more.

Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
18 January 2022

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