POM Antwerp: Antwerp ticks all the boxes
For businesses looking to establish a subsidiary, Antwerp is ideally placed to facilitate expansion across Europe. Luc Broos, general manager of POM Antwerp, explains why this thriving region of Belgium is fast becoming an industry hub, with numerous value-added services on offer.
In recent years, Belgium has seen an influx of new business start-ups and subsidiaries. Drawn in by its location, infrastructure and business environment, many corporates have chosen the country as their European base. This applies not least to Antwerp, which is ideally placed for multinationals seeking market expansion.
Situated in the heart of Flanders, Antwerp has the particular advantage of its thriving inland port. As one of European's leading harbours, the Port of Antwerp handled 183 million tons of goods in 2012, and that quantity only continues to grow. In fact, this is the foremost port in Europe when it comes to steel, timber, coffee and tobacco shipping, not to mention the fact that it plays host to the second largest chemical cluster in the world.
"It takes goods 100km inland, which is much cheaper by ship than if you bring them on a truck," points out Luc Broos, general manager of POM Antwerp. "The unique combination of this inland location with excellent multimodal hinterland connections and a long-standing expertise in value-added logistic services makes Antwerp the place to be for European distribution centres."
Interconnectedness is everything in Antwerp. The area maintains excellent links to the rest of Europe, being situated just 45km from Brussels, and two hours' travel from London, Amsterdam or Paris. A truck driver starting his journey here can reach any European destination within 24 hours, making this an exemplary gateway to the rest of the continent and millions of potential customers.
"The port is an integrated zone, meaning that all the big players are connected with different modes of transport," says Broos. "The three traditional modes are the roads, the inland waterways and the railroad, but there's also a fourth mode: a pipeline connection that allows one factory to deliver its end-product to another, which the second factory uses as its starting product."
A conflux of cultures
The region has accordingly garnered a reputation as a distribution hub. With over 800 European distribution centres, alongside numerous logistics specialists, it is notable for its strength in supply chain management. There are also many other service providers available, with a firm understanding of the European market and expertise in fields such as product design. The workforce is highly creative, productive and flexible. What is more, because most people here are multilingual, they can serve a wide array of customers from a single location. While Antwerp itself is located in the Dutch-language part of Belgium, English, French and German are also spoken fluently, and the area sits at the conflux of many different cultures.
As for expatriates relocating here, they can benefit from an interesting working environment, low real-estate costs and some attractive tax incentives, alongside a high quality of life for themselves and their families.
"We have a good education system, including the Antwerp Management School, which has been ranked 50th in the world," says Broos. "So when a company comes here to set up a distribution centre or a European headquarters, they can be sure that they can raise their children in an ideal climate with good schools and good sporting facilities. I think this makes it a nice place to live."
Of course, all these advantages have been well documented. There are several other, less publicised, reasons corporates should take a closer look. Specifically, POM Antwerp has two new developments from which high-tech companies can benefit. As a dynamic government organisation, POM Antwerp is tasked with implementing economic policy, developing business centres, stimulating entrepreneurship and supporting foreign companies that wish to establish a local branch. Most recently, this has meant developing Veiling Zuid (the agribusiness site of the future), and Science Park University of Antwerp, a campus for high-tech companies.
"What we're trying to do is to bring companies together in science parks or industry parks and organise things that these companies can do jointly together," explains Broos. "For instance, in the industrial park, we arrange park-management facilities such as central parking or central surveillance or waste collection, so that they can decrease costs by joining forces and free up time to focus on their core business." The Science Park, covering 32ha, offers made-to-measure solutions for spin-offs, SMEs and multinationals active in research and development. It unites enterprises in a stimulating environment, surrounded by water and greenery.
As well as a business development building, which offers flexible space for evolving organisations, the site will contain ten additional buildings suited to companies that wish to manage their own growth. As of 2014, there will also be a state-of-the-art incubator, offering communal facilities such as conference rooms, a reception and a cafeteria.
"All of these are centrally organised, because we think that the companies in question need their attention very much on their business," says Broos. "They need flexible rental facilities with a good offering of services around them. So that's what we can offer in the science park."
The park also schedules a programme of seminars, workshops and networking events, allowing the companies that use the facilities to forge new business links. A spirit of collaboration is encouraged, helping cement the region's status as a powerhouse of research and development.
Focus on agribusiness
Veiling Zuid, meanwhile, is a 55ha development with a single goal: it aims to become the pre-eminent European location for any company working in agribusiness. Situated in the middle of an industrial estate, the development will undertake a wide array of activities, including the processing of agriproducts, production and supply of feeds, logistics and distribution, repair of farm machinery and non-land-related agrarian production. "The agriproducts are auctioned here, but also factory packed," clarifies Broos. "They are washed, deep-frozen and from there sent out anywhere in the world. Together with Europe's largest cooperative auction, which has been in operation since 1950, this industrial park becomes the largest cluster for food-handling in Western Europe."
Both facilities are created with an eye to the smart use of space, making use of a communal green and water buffers alongside public parking spaces to allow companies a maximum building density. There are new accesses and cycling paths to facilitate mobility, and a range of features geared towards maximum sustainability and CO2 neutrality. Across both developments, efficient park management is key - a corollary of so many companies joining forces.
The implication is clear: Antwerp is an unparalleled location for foreign companies hoping to expand. Not content to rest on its laurels, the region continues to invest in facilities that will promote business at the highest level. It is well equipped for both sides of the equation - high-tech research and development alongside sales, distribution and marketing - and offers strong geographic and economic benefits to businesses of all stripes.
"Antwerp is a very interesting place to start a European business," says Broos. "Because of the flexibility of the workforce, you can easily expand or decrease the workforce, you can have flexible labour contracts, and you can define how much tax you're going to pay in advance. We have a good education system, good knowledge of languages and a good location. What differentiates it from other locations in Europe is all these different factors."