With 6 million inhabitants, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, where Lille is located, is France’s fourth largest GDP. In 2014 it was also the second most popular region, after Ile-de-France, for international companies with plans to expand in France. Yann Pitollet, CEO of Nord France Invest, gives some insight into why international businesses and organizations choose Lille and its region for their development projects, and why the area’s attractiveness will continue to grow.
International development supports regional health
Nord France Invest is a regional agency whose goal is to find and convince international businesses planning to expand into Europe to choose the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region for their development projects. “Our goal is to facilitate and encourage the efforts of international companies to come to the region,” explains Mr Pitollet. It seems to be a good match, with 4,000 jobs created or spared in 2014 thanks to the presence of international businesses. As Mr Pitollet points out, this is as many as were saved or created in the entire country of Scotland during the same period. The benefits go both ways, with international companies reaping the benefits of an accessible, affordable region with an eager workforce.
Access and affordability
One of the region’s main draws is its accessibility: downtown Lille is a quick 50-minute train ride from Charles de Gaulle airport, Europe’s second-largest airport. “From an international perspective, to be able to be in the city center in 50 minutes is amazing,” says Mr Pitollet. “Lille is connected to the world.” In addition to being easy to access, Lille offers companies lower infrastructure costs than its southern neighbour. “Real estate is three to four times less expensive in Lille than it is in Paris,” adds Mr Pitollet.
Ecosystems support growth
In addition to being accessible and affordable, metropolitan Lille is a hub for several growing industries, including IT, and the service and health sectors, not to mention the region’s historically strong activities like retail. “We have an incredibly strong health sector leading the field in cancer research, for example. And let’s not forget, CHU is the second largest medical center in France,” says Mr Pitollet. Outside of metropolitan Lille, the presence of the service sector gives way to a strong manufacturing and agricultural base. “With Picardie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais combined, we’re the largest agricultural region in France”.
The fact that a number of companies have already chosen to expand in the region means there is a healthy network for new arrivals to lean on. “We have extremely dense ecosystems [in the sectors Nord France Invest prospects in] which means that any new company will find existing companies with the same challenges,” says Mr Pitollet.
A skilled, available workforce
There’s a final factor that Mr Pitollet says accounts for Nord Invest France’s success in drawing international heavyweights like Amazon and IBM to the region. “The key ingredient that these companies are after is access to skills, what we call ‘talent’ today: skilled, available workers,” he says.
While some might cite the region’s 12% unemployment rate as a point against it, Mr Pitollet argues that it is a strategic advantage. “When companies need to hire 200 or 300 people, I ask them, would it be better to go somewhere with an available workforce, or to another area in Europe that has, say, 4% unemployment, where nearly everyone has a job and recruiting a workforce implies paying more to coax personnel away from the competition?” What’s more, Lille is able to provide a workforce proficient in English, which constitutes a vital resource for international businesses.
A region keeping pace with change
Lille and its region is attractive for its location, diverse industry offering, and a skilled workforce, but as Mr. Pitollet explains, what is really compelling is the way in which the city and its surrounding region are adapting to an evolving economy. “The digital revolution has only just begun,” he says. “Business models are not at all what they used to be, even compared to the 1990s.”
Those changes can be felt at different levels of Lille’s economic fabric. “We have historically large sectors that are evolving toward something much more modern; we’re also seeing a convergence of activities. For example, the textile industry and the health sector,” says Mr Pitollet. Innovation and adaptation are keeping Lille relevant in a time of intense transition. “Things have really changed, and the fact that we are a region that is accessible to the world is a huge advantage.”