As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline, who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory.
Sweden has bucked the trend of restrictive measures in response to coronavirus. Rather than imposing a lockdown, it has urged its citizens to practise social distancing and work from home. While this has not stopped the advance of Covid-19, Business Sweden’s Ylva Berg emphasises that Swedes are abiding by the guidelines and the agency she heads is doing all it can to support both its employees and companies.
Q: What does life look like for Swedes at the moment?
A: Even though we are not in total lockdown mode, most people are working from home and not socialising with anyone outside their family. While I am not an expert on these trends, I think the majority of Swedes believe it is better to have some degree of freedom and to make sure they follow the rules and regulations.
Most Swedes are taking this very seriously.
Q: How have your day-to-day activities changed?
A: Business Sweden - which is also known as the Swedish Trade and Invest Council - does both investment promotion and trade facilitation. We have had to drop the long-term planning as we have to support the companies in handling more acute issues.
At the same time we have to really make sure that our employees are safe and can work in a good manner from home. Our first priority has been to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.
Q: How have your strategies changed as an agency?
A: From a trade promotion perspective, both Swedish and international companies are struggling to get supplies in time; get their value chains working; find new suppliers; and to get their products through customs. We have been contacted 24/7 by Swedish companies who need help both locally and internationally. We have made sure to make more staff available to answer these questions.
From an investment promotion perspective, we are in close dialogue with internationally owned companies in Sweden. The majority of my investment promoters are working with companies already located in Sweden, or on their way to Sweden, to make sure that we do everything to make their life easier and introduce them to the support system that is available here.
Q: What specific support is available to foreign investors in Sweden?
A: Foreign-owned companies located and paying taxes in Sweden have exactly the same possibilities as Swedish companies. For example, they can apply to pay taxes and social security for their employees at a later point if they are in a tough liquidity position.
Since a week ago there is also the possibility to do short-term layoffs. The government will step in to pay part of employees’ salaries.
Employees can get between 92% and 96% of their monthly salary, but only need to work part of the time, depending on how much work a company can give them. There are also several Swedish governmental agencies helping out with financial aid for companies.
Q: Are foreign companies still showing interest in Sweden?
A: There is still interest, even though it is not as strong as before and depends on the areas companies are active in. We have certain ecosystems where investors want to be part of the value chain development.
For example, the battery industry we are developing in the northern part of Sweden. The quarantine and travel restrictions are hampering a lot of action that is needed for these things to move forward.
Q: What do you think are the most important leadership skills needed to deal with the crisis?
A: I always try to put the employee in the centre. You have to put yourself in their shoes and see what you can do to make their life a little easier. As a leader, you have to be aware that the needs [of employees] are very different.
We are [also] trying to make ourselves available and be a tool for the international companies in Sweden, to help them navigate the help that is available.
Q: What advice would you give to other IPAs?
A: We are in very unique circumstances. The critical situation that companies find themselves in might not be at all through their own fault.
I believe that [IPAs] should put themselves in the shoes of leaders that are trying to lead internationally-owned companies in their local countries. [IPAs must] present the opportunities and support system that is there, and make sure to translate how companies can benefit from it.
Ylva Berg is the chief executive and president of Business Sweden, the investment and trade promotion agency of Sweden.
If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.