The Flemish region saw foreign inward investment fall by more than half in 2020, from €5.2 billion in 2019 to €2.39 billion.
The figures come from the region’s foreign investment agency Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) presented yesterday by minister-president Jan Jambon.
The main reason given for the fall of more than 50% is not a mystery: the coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of all sectors of the worldwide economy.
“The prospect of a deep recession is prompting many international companies to rethink planned projects,” explained Claire Tillekaerts, managing director at FIT.
But while total volumes were severely curtailed, the numbers of investment projects concerned stayed roughly the same, which the number of jobs created also dipped only slightly – in that case from 5,384 in 2019 to 4,717 in 2020.
Also, the number of jobs created by inward investment in research and development rose significantly, from 300 to almost 900.
“Flanders presents itself as a knowledge-driven economy with strong knowledge institutions, universities, ecosystems, strong education, and so on. This makes it easier for us to attract foreign investment in that sector,” said Tillekaerts.
Another unforeseen effect of the pandemic was to allow the Netherlands to push the United States from the number one position in foreign investment in Flanders.
The region’s immediate neighbour was responsible for 20% of all investors, and 42% of all projects.
“The Dutch investments are intended to strengthen the position in direct sales. Just think of the expansion of chains such as Jumbo or Albert Heijn. Logistics companies such as PostNL are also strengthening their base here,” said Tillekaerts.
In third place came the United Kingdom, as British investors tried to get a foot in the door with Brexit on the horizon. For reasons of history and proximity, Flanders has always had close and enduring business ties with the United Kingdom.
The British wave of investments – 30 projects for 13% of all inward investment – is part of the reason why two-thirds of all investment in 2020 came from companies that previously had to presence in the region.
“This confirms Flanders’ strong position as a base for international expansion,” said Jambon.