European Business Magazine catches up with Nadia Chibouti -International Development & Inward Investment Advisor at “Invest in Western France”. We talk to her about the region, its objectives, the prevalent industries in the region and the agency’s promotional activities

Western France is your brand name for Foreign Direct Investment and Promotion, but Pays de la Loire is the official name of the Region.? How do you differentiate the two when marketing abroad to investors? For example, do you use Western France for advertising and branding, but within editorial, etc. you would specifically talk about the Pays de la Loire region?

Pays de la Loire is not always well known abroad, since the Loire valley, associated to “Chateaux de la Loire” (Castles) or “Vins du Val de Loire”, includes the other regions of France crossed by the Loire River, the longest French River going from the Saint Etienne area to our place.
Through the Western France brand, we can better localise our region on the Estuary of the Loire, but we also highlight the notion of market covering the whole Western part of France (also including Brittany or Normandy), representing a major and strong market for companies involved in manufacturing activities.

Where exactly is the region situated in France?

We can say that Pays de la Loire, which is the same size as Belgium, is located on the Atlantic Ocean between Brittany, Paris and Bordeaux, crossed by the Loire River. So, close to the main markets (only 1hr from Paris), and opened to worldwide markets thanks to its maritime seacoast and major seaport of Nantes-Saint-Nazaire which is linked to 400 feeder ports around the world. Our main cities are Nantes, Angers, Le Mans.

What are the major challenges you face in marketing the region in Europe?

Our region used to be well renowned abroad for its gastronomy, wines, beaches and castles; a good point since this gives us access to a region regularly awarded for its quality of life. Beyond that, companies and businesses often ignore that our region is historically oriented on agri-food processing, and with a strong background in metal and mechanic industries. They are always surprised to learn that we are the third industrial region of France, and the first in France for many years for the number of manufacturing plants created each year.

What are the main industries that are prevalent in Pays de la Loire region?

Pays de la Loire is characterised by a dense and diversified industrial footprint; rooted by its ocean-oriented activities. Pays de la Loire is today the French capital for Marine Renewable Energies, and historically the place in the world where we build the biggest cruise liners – Queen Mary II, Harmony of the Seas, le Normandie, Le France, have been built here. The metal industry and mechanics also related to transport industries have also been declined to the development of the automotive industry in the region (third hub in France), to aeronautics (second hub for Airbus in France), to agricultural machinery (first in France). Our port of Nantes Saint Nazaire is also strongly involved and specialised in transport of special and large vehicles (cars, tractors, pieces of aircrafts, cruise ships delivery, etc.).

Our geographic localisation combined with the proximity to the sea and the Loire river give us good pedoclimatic conditions for agriculture and horticulture production. We are the second agricultural and food processing region of France, and third for wine production (first for white wine).

With such strong manufacturing activities in the region, the different industrial revolutions led the region to develop electronics competences, as well as robotization and digitalisation of its industries. We are even now the French pioneer region to test and develop smart electricity networks or the concept of smart industry of the future with dedicated innovation platforms to make our industries even more competitive.

What are the main objectives of the agency?

Our agency first aims at promoting the region and its sectors abroad as a strong potential market for foreign companies. Then we accompany them in their development strategy to think about our region as a potential place to set up their business to get closer to this dense & diversified industrial ecosystem. The region has a high level of skills, and is open to foreign collaboration to complete the chain of value & stand as an even more attractive region.

We are an economic development agency and much more than that… Indeed, our team is made of business development experts. Their main mission is to support and advise companies in establishing their business in our region. We customize our approach to companies specific needs. Our main concern is the competitiveness of companies that we support.

What are the main types of marketing you do to promote the region in order to attract foreign direct investment? For example, how do you go about strengthening the internationalisation of the regional economy?

We used to have institutional cooperation with different regions all over the globe, with regional representation offices (India, China, California, Mexico, Germany, …) and we have used these in the latest years to develop the economic cooperation (export/import & cross-investments). The region will open in May, three new offices in Hong Kong, Chicago and Abidjan, and that will help us in developing business networks in those parts of the globe.

We are also the regional correspondent of the Business France agency which has offices all over the globe to represent our regions as potential places to invest in.
We then regularly go to targeted countries like the UK to organise conferences and networking events to promote our region. That is why we have decided for the first time this year to participate at the FDI show in London next May.

We also use major international sport events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race, the sailing race of Vendée Globe, the Bridge, etc. to invite targeted prospects and companies to discover our ecosystem on tailored business-oriented visit programmes.

What are the major benefits you see for international companies to relocate or invest in the region?

France remains an important market in the EU for many activities. Our region also represents an important market for the sectors mentioned above. While getting closer to customers and partners in our region, companies can profit from cost effective and competitive costs of production. Our rental prices and land costs are below the national average, as well as wages. We are close to Paris (the new High Speed Train is less than 1hour from Paris) with excellent transport networks. We have the main international airport of West of France with 6 direct lines to the UK for instance, and the main seaport of the Atlantic Coast. Our quality of life attracts good competences from all over France, with outstanding education centres and many Paris engineers and executives move to live here. The region used to be a testing region and pioneer for many subjects – PRI (Regional Innovation Platform) as R&D is a big challenge for the region that can support any R&D investments up to 50% of expenses; RFI (Research Innovation Training) launched and tested in the region to organise the training and innovation competences; IRT (Technological Research Institute) on the Industry of the Future, was the first research centre in France to develop the Plant of the Future; SMILE project to become the European pioneer region for smart electricity networks; and our five French Tech cities oriented on the digital market applied to industry.

France is generally a big attraction for the UK as it is so close, but especially as a tourist destination. Are there any specific reasons why UK companies would look to the Pays de la Loire region?

UK company managers already know they could live in Pays de la Loire for its “douceur de vivre”, its climate and quality of life, but they probably do not even think about working here or developing a business here!
Once they discover that within just 1 h 30 flying time from the UK, they can find strong potential markets with high level recruitment possibilities supported by regional special grants at accessible operational costs, and that from there they can easily reach other major markets such as the south of Europe or even further the North and Western Part of Africa via our maritime direct lines, they could think it twice!

This is why many UK companies like GKN Driveline investing 20M€ here in its most modern unit of Europe, Colart Painting investing here to repatriate its production from China, Vecteur Plus, recruiting hundreds of informatics engineers and many others, GSK having here one of its 3 French units, Chaucer Foods, etc. are already seeing the benefits. Just like the +500 other foreign investors making the most of Pays de la Loire.