Supported since 1972 by the first economic promotion agency in Switzerland, Fribourg has emerged as an attractive destination for domestic and foreign direct investment. Jerry Krattiger, Managing Director of the Fribourg Development Agency, explains how efforts in diversifying the canton’s economy are helping a broad portfolio of sectors, which have a specialisation in bioeconomy and Industry 4.0. Jerry shares how the ready availability of infrastructure, access to skilled labour, and the development of competence centres make the canton of Fribourg an attractive destination for new businesses to seek valuable returns in high-value generating and innovative projects.
The interview is part of our series of paid (and thus open access) features aimed at introducing you to high-potential business locations in Switzerland and around the world – and to the person in charge of foreign investment attraction and economic development promotion. If you’d like us to introduce your city or region, please contact us.
Jerry, as Director of the Economic Development Agency of Canton Fribourg, in your view what makes the region attractive as a business location?
Fribourg is at the heart of Switzerland. It is bilingual French and German, boasts the youngest population of Switzerland, and excellent universities and technical colleges.
We have a very diversified economy with a strong focus in bioeconomy (going from agri-food industries to a vibrant construction sector and innovative biotechs) and Industry 4.0 (particularly strong in automation and robots). Joined together, these two verticals represent almost half of the canton’s employment and GDP.
Additionally, compared to other parts of Switzerland, Fribourg has quite a bit of readily available construction land and infrastructure across its territory and its five innovation sites:
It has also decided to actively purchase available land and sites to make them easily available for investors.
In a nutshell: Fribourg has a robust and diversified economy with a speciality in bioeconomy and Industry 4.0. We have the talent and the land for companies to invest in and set up a solid base in Switzerland and serve a large part of the continental European market.
Companies established in the canton tell us that they highly appreciate the very personalised level of contacts which we nurture between government agencies and companies.
How does your organisation help to attract investors and talent to Fribourg?
We work very heavily with the Greater Geneva Bern area (GGBa) network, which Fribourg is currently presiding. In terms of FDI, markets that have proven to be very interesting for us are regions that share some structural similarities to our ecosystem. This is the case for some regions in France, Germany, China, the USA, and Brazil.
In all those markets, we rely heavily on the network which GGBa has built over the past 10 years. We have also a clearly defined strategy and priorities according to specific markets. In terms of resources, we allocate 70% to companies that are already established in Fribourg. So a lot of effort is spent on customer care.
Which are the main challenges in promoting a region such as Fribourg to potential foreign investors or skilled workers?
Clearly, competition is fierce.
Overall, Switzerland has an excellent image abroad, which by extension benefits Fribourg. A lot of the work we do is to position the expertise we have in the canton through our competence centres – 3D printing, embarked security, nanotech, and biofactory competence centre, just to name a few.
The Smart Living Lab of the EPFL – dedicated to how the buildings of the future will be designed – is an asset we position often. It is located right in the “quartier de l’innovation” of blueFACTORY, 8 minutes walking distance from the main train station of the city of Fribourg.
Fribourg is at the foothills of the Alps and on the shores of two beautiful lakes. This, along with very good housing and some of the best public schools in the country (we regularly top the national PISA scores) is a very attractive offer for expatriates.
How has the coronavirus pandemic been impacting Fribourg as a business and investment location – and your work as a location promoter and economic developer?
Overall, Switzerland’s swift response to the pandemic has been well received internationally. Fribourg has been one of the most aggressive and generous cantons when it came to supporting its local economy. This is possible due to extensive financial reserves, built over the years which enabled us to have several targeted emergency measures. Also, Fribourg is the first canton to launch a stimulus plan to the tune of more than CHF 60 million with a total of 25 measures in areas as diverse as energy, public works, apprenticeships, research and development, and digitalisation.
Interestingly enough, 2020 has been so far a good year for Fribourg in terms of investment and business location. A number of large extension projects are ongoing in the pharma and food industries representing investments in the hundreds of millions.
Additionally, we have been successful during COVID times to attract a total of 12 foreign companies, which in normal times would be a very good year.
In fact, we have just kept on working in a more agile and virtual way, and this has paid off. Considering that FDI is projected to shrink by 30% in 2020, we will have to monitor closely how 2021 will play out and if Switzerland is actually able to benefit from its strong image.
We recently published a white paper on the climate emergency and its implications for place branding. In it, leading place brand specialists highlight the urgent need to account for climate resilience in economic development and place positioning strategies. In your view, how important is a location’s resilience (in the face of climate impact, or a pandemic like COVID-19) nowadays, for its ability to attract investors and talent?
It is very important!
We have also come to the conclusion that Fribourg indeed is very resilient. In fact, compared to other parts of Switzerland (and the world for that matter), our GDP has not been hit as badly as other regions which are more dependent on a single industry (watchmaking for instance).
In the third quarter of 2020, we ‘only’ had a decrease of -3,2%, while most of Switzerland was at -8% and some other parts of the world were even registering -20%. This diverse economic base is an asset. Furthermore, our companies in the agritech, pharma, and biotech sectors have performed very well. Additionally, a solid automated industrial base has also been beneficial when it comes to reducing the spread of the virus in factories.
Circular economy is a very important theme that contributes both to resilience and decreased climate impact. Clearly, organisations such as the Smart Living Lab work on themes such as building in an energy-efficient way. This is complemented by initiatives in our vibrant Building Innovation Cluster to promote the use of wood as a sustainable and bio-sourced material.
Furthermore, the Plastics Innovation Competence Center and the Swiss Plastics Cluster are very active on topics such as circular economy, biodegradable plastics, and the use of alternative polymers. Lastly, we host one of Switzerland’s most dynamic clusters dedicated to food and nutrition. Lastly, we host one of Switzerland’s most dynamic clusters dedicated to food and nutrition: the Cluster Food and Nutrition.
This diversity and our unique assets make Fribourg very attractive to investors and talent.
How do you collaborate with other communities, institutions, and established businesses in the Fribourg region, to make sure their actions and stories are “on brand” and align with your portrayal of Fribourg as a business and investment location?
Nationally and internationally, we work closely with Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) and GGBa. This collaboration means that we regularly provide them with success stories, which are then fed into their communication channels.
Locally, we work closely with the chamber of commerce and trade associations. We are also positioning testimonials of companies that are based in Fribourg or have chosen to establish their business and invest in Fribourg: About us – Fribourg Development Agency FDA.
Lastly, all our centres of competence and science parks are perfectly aligned with our focus on bioeconomy and Industry 4.0. They all are key contributors to our positioning.
Looking forward: which new initiatives or developments in Fribourg are you most excited about right now?
The Swiss Integrative Center for Human Health (SICHH), a centre focusing on smart diagnostics has applied to the federal department of education and innovation to be recognised as a national centre of competence in diagnostics. This is an opportunity to highlight our expertise in the life science areas.
Just recently, Fribourg joined the Swiss Food and Nutrition Valley, which is an initiative launched by EPFL, Ecole hotelière de Lausanne, the canton of Vaud and Nestlé. This initiative will allow us to position Fribourg nationally and internationally as one of the most dynamic cantons in the agritech and food sectors.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Yes, Fribourg is THE place to grow!
Thank you, Jerry.
You can also follow Fribourg Development Agency on Twitter for all the latest updates and general information regarding the setup and expansion of businesses in the region.
Our interview with Jerry Krattiger of Canton Fribourg is part of our series of (paid) features introducing cities and regions as potential places for talent and investors to consider as a location to live and invest in. If you’d like us to introduce your business location to our global audience, please get in touch here.
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