With the economic development community slowly beginning to exit nationwide lockdowns, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. 

France is set to begin easing lockdown measures from May 11. But even as the strictest restrictions come to an end, the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic will still shape a new reality that will require new strategies, argues Lionel Grotto, the head of Choose Paris Region. 

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Q: How has the lockdown affected your organisation?

A: We already had a very agile workforce, the crisis has just accelerated a shift to home working that was already underway. Today all our 80 employees are working from home. 

Q: How has your strategy changed? 

A: We've tried to be as useful as possible to investors. We contacted as many foreign companies as possible, those that carried out projects more recently as well as those who hadn’t been in touch for some time. 

It’s an opportunity for us to understand what they’re going through and adjust our services accordingly. We’re focusing on those industries we believe are going to be vital in the future, but also helping those that have to make really difficult adjustments to their business models.

In our region, there is a big manufacturing base in sectors like automotives and aerospace. Those sectors have developed a lot over the last three years. We have the infrastructure in place and now want to prepare for further relocation and cooperation in the future. 

Q: What kind of relocations are you expecting? 

A: We are continuing to see major projects in healthcare, particularly in biotech, logistics, electric vehicle batteries and the digital sector although the pandemic has had an impact. 

Q: The French government has approved a rescue plan for the startup industry. Will startups lead the recovery? 

A: We are now looking at what the future growth-drivers will be and how we need to reshuffle the labour ecosystem to address the new needs of the economy. 

Traditional sectors like the air transport industry are facing significant transformations. We have many aerospace workers in this region, they are well trained with specific capabilities.

Startups may indeed be more able to adapt. We will see manufacturers get closer to consumers with smaller production units, so perhaps that will also be part of the new normal. 

Q: What will the new normal for the travel industry look like? 

A: We don’t know how international companies will adjust or what their policies will be in terms of international travel. Will site visits and face-to-face meetings be part of the new normal? We’re working to find new digital ways to service our base of investors to be able to deal with the initial phases of an investment decision process digitally. 

Q: What sort of leadership are you seeking to provide?

A: The world is changing, and IPAs are no exception. From the beginning [of the crisis] we have been able to adapt and many of our staff have changed their focus. Those who were working in events have been switched to other functions like webinars; those who were doing investment promotion activities are now working with existing investors to convey the message that we care and want to help. We have to be agile, and see the changes that will come with the new normal and adjust to them.

Lionel Grotto is the CEO of Choose Paris Region. 

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.