Montréal International has triumphed as top investment promotion agency (IPA) of the year in the 2020 iteration of fDi’s Strategy Awards, impressing a judging panel made up of leading professionals from the world of investment promotion. 

Invest Glasgow has come in second, while the IPA of North Rhine-Westphalia, NRW.Global Business and London Partners are recognised for their aftercare strategy and economic recovery potential, respectively. 

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In the fifth edition of the annual fDi’s Strategy Awards, the judges reviewed the 55 locations and IPAs that had already stood out in the major rankings published by fDi throughout 2020 — the inaugural Tech Cities of the Future and Tier 2 Cities of the Future rankings, as well as the European Cities and Regions of the Future 2020/2021. 

While most of the entries were collected before Covid-19 struck, or right at the outset of the pandemic, they highlight some of the elements which went on to determine the success of IPA activities throughout the pandemic. The judges have captured these elements in two new main awards categories: best aftercare strategy and best economic recovery potential. 

IPA of the year

Winner: Montréal International

Montréal International has been crowned fDi’s IPA of the year. The agency performed outstandingly on several factors, from an impressive array of investor incentives to a creative marketing programme and superb aftercare. Montréal’s investors clearly appreciate the level of support and encouragement that they have received, as the agency reports that in 2019, 88% of their projects would not have been established, or would have been established on a smaller scale, without their assistance and support. 

The agency has a clear strategic focus, honing in on a selection of successful sectors such as gaming, AI, life sciences and health technologies. Due to the IPA’s well designed strategic vision, it is set to be a world leader in these fields.

Montréal International organises outreach events with the Montréal Mayor’s office, hosting economic missions and participating in major trade shows. It also successfully tackles FDI promotion through a focus on strengthening the location’s talent pool. This is boosted through facilitating international recruitment, to attract and retain international students.

The agency also focuses on supporting the financial benefits of future investors through an attractive array of tax credits, special electricity rates and funding assistance for major projects. Montréal International offers a website with slick visuals, interactive tools, employee contact sheets and engaging blogs. Montréal International is an exemplary IPA, from its marketing of the region to strategic support for future investors and impressive financial benefits. 

Runner-up: Invest Glasgow

Invest Glasgow has come in as runner-up in fDi’s Strategy Awards 2020. Glasgow has a clear strategic vision to become the UK’s best performing city for inward investment by 2023. To achieve this, the city has a strong list of incentives that would impress any prospective investor.

Glasgow’s economic strategy is underpinned by the triple helix approach, fostering collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector. It has a range of unique elements to attract investors, such as the city’s three ‘Innovation Districts’, designed to nurture clusters of growth and utilise advanced technologies. The city also offers a robust range of traditional incentives, such as research and development grants and tax benefits for commercialising UK/EU patents.

Glasgow has a specific digital strategy which includes the ‘Tontine Accelerator’ — an accelerator programme which provides workspaces for businesses in the enabling technology, advanced design and manufacturing, and creative economy sectors. Investors will also be attracted to the city’s inspiring environmental sustainability focus, with the Glasgow City Council pledging to become the UK’s first net zero city. 

Best aftercare strategy 

Winner: NRW.Global Business 

North Rhine-Westphalia’s IPA, NRW.Global Business, has won the top billing for best aftercare strategy. NRW.Global Business describes aftercare as a central component of their work, and this is certainly evident in their aftercare strategy.

The IPA takes part in visits to foreign investor’s locations, in order to establish good communication and exchange information on the investor’s satisfaction. This also helps assess if any additional support is required. The IPA’s foreign representative offices are in charge of regularly contacting and visiting the headquarters of key investors. This personal approach to aftercare is continued through aftercare events, including New Year’s receptions, business breakfasts and annual meetings. NRW.Global Business also runs a yearly award event with over 500 public and private representatives present.

The value that NRW.Global Business places on its resident investors is clear, and is a fantastic example of a strong aftercare strategy.  

Runner-up: Montréal International 

Montréal International has caught the attention of the judges with their hands-on approach to aftercare. The agency has reported an impressive 460 visits to subsidiaries in 2019, offering further counselling to support growth and success. This allows Montréal International to keep in touch with companies’ needs and provide protracted guidance, strategic advice and other expertise.

The IPA also invited subsidiary representatives to networking events and lunches, facilitating connections and fostering group learning and shared experiences.

Montréal International is proactive about solving issues related to the location’s attractiveness for investors. For example, Montréal International has succeeded in lobbying the government to maintain a crucial fast-track immigration programme to ease the concerns of current investors.

Best economic recovery potential

Winner: London & Partners

London & Partners has won the top prize for economic recovery potential. London’s diverse array of high-growth sectors has positioned the city for a strong recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. The city benefits from being part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ (with Cambridge and Oxford), which contains a fifth of the top 25 universities for life sciences and medicine globally.

London is at the forefront of research and development in this sector, with facilities such as the London Cancer Hub and the Dementia Research Institute. As many countries look to a Green Recovery after Covid-19, London looks set to capitalise on this through its Cleantech sector. London’s low-carbon goods and services sector has grown by more than 9% over the past two years and is expected to continue to grow at more than 7% to 2021/22.

The city will also benefit from the growing interest in pandemic-proof companies, which will entail more automation to reduce human involvement. London is home to 758 AI companies and will certainly be able to benefit from this increase in demand. 

Runner-up: Montréal International

Covid-19 has accelerated many of the trends of the past decades, and has certainly accelerated the move towards an increasingly digital future. Montréal is well equipped for this transition, as Greater Montréal offers the highest concentration of tech sector jobs in any Canadian city, and has the fifth highest tech jobs concentration among the largest metropolitan areas in Canada and the US.

Montréal is the world’s fifth largest gaming production hub and is home to more than 140 game studios. Gaming companies have reported soaring sales throughout 2020, as long periods of lockdowns saw the public turn to video games for distraction, entertainment and social connection. Many of the changes in the entertainments industry persist for some time, so Montréal’s economic future certainly looks promising. 

fDi Strategy award winners 2020

fDi’s choice

For the fDi Choice section, three internal judges have reviewed the winning entries from the European Cities of the Future, Tier 2 Cities of the Future and Tech Cities of the Future competitions. The judges have selected locations which stood out due to their success within a certain sector or their excellence within specific FDI specialisms.

Specialism awards

Agribusiness

Ireland South East Development Office

The region’s farming tradition, in addition to its ease of access to the European market and strong levels of agritech research, makes it an ideal location for FDI in the agribusiness sector. Ireland South East has been the 6th fastest growing region in Europe over the past five years. The region benefits from a large indigenous company base, in addition to research centres and leading training providers. This provides competitive advantages in both the agrifood and agritech industries, with companies such as Coca Cola and Danone present in the region.

Artificial intelligence

Montréal International 

Greater Montréal has the highest concentration of tech sector jobs in any Canadian city, and positions itself as a key technology hub. Montréal is also a world leader in AI, with more than 500 researchers and graduates at Mila, a deep learning and reinforcement learning academic research lab. Since 2016, the city has received more than $2bn of investment from the public and private sectors. Montréal has an impressive list of companies that have settled there, such as Google, IBM, Facebook and Microsoft.

Bioenergy/renewables

Scottish Development International

Scotland has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to environmental sustainability, with 70% of its electricity consumption coming from renewables in 2017. This is especially impressive considering the region is Europe’s leading offshore oil and gas location, with the EU’s largest estimated oil reserves.

The Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm, located on the north-east coast of Scotland, is the fourth largest offshore wind farm globally, and is one of the largest ever private investments in Scottish infrastructure at £2.6bn. The construction of the world's largest tidal energy plants, MeyGen, is also underway in Scotland. It is clear that Scotland is truly leading the world with bold investments in renewable energy and a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. 

Blockchain

London & Partners

London is renowned as one of the financial capitals of the world, so it is no surprise that it is also one of the leading blockchain hubs. In 2017, £15m ($20bn) of venture capital funds were invested in the sector, and overall investments tripled between Q3 2016 and Q2 2018 to £113m.

London hosts a regular summit called ‘Blockchain Summit London’, which is the largest blockchain-dedicated event in Europe with 5000 industry leaders, investors and innovators in attendance. The city also benefits from a strong talent pool, as it is home to more software developers than any other European city. This talent pool is boosted through cutting-edge research from the city’s universities. University College London is a partner in Ripple’s £37m University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) which accelerates research and innovation in blockchain.

BPO

Wrocław Agglomeration Development Agency ARAW

Wrocław has a thriving business services sector, particularly in the field of Business Process Outsourcing. The city has more than 24,000 employees based in the business services sector, and companies include Credit Suisse, IBM, HP and EY. Wrocław has focused on boosting the talent pool for these companies through shared promotional campaigns to attract young, well-educated people into the city. With similar objectives, the city has created the ‘Wrocław Academic Hub’, a cooperative platform for local government, academia and the business sector. The programmes aim to connect business and science, and strengthen job creation. 

Chemicals

City of Antwerp

The chemical industry within the Port of Antwerp is Europe’s largest chemical cluster. Antwerp has some of the most significant chemical companies in the world, such as BASF and ExxonMobil. Antwerp’s chemical cluster specialises in a high level of integration with company co-operation, pipelines and co-siting. The city also has a strong partnership within the academic, public and private sectors to create a sustainable chemistry ecosystem.

Important areas for the city are sustainable energy, process optimisation and recuperation of waste. Antwerp offers a range of investment opportunities for future investors, with ‘BlueApp’, an open innovation hub for sustainable chemistry and materials, and ‘BlueChem’, an incubator for sustainable chemistry. 

Cybersecurity

Invest Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland has shown impressive might in the cybersecurity sector as, over the past five years, it has been the top international investment location for US cybersecurity development projects. This is backed by the region’s outperformance in fintech development projects.

The region is home to a range of leading cybersecurity firms, such as Imperva, Alert Logic, Signifyd and Anomali. These firms are all attracted to the region due to a superb talent pool, competitive cost effectiveness and excellent tech research. The local universities all offer Master’s and PhD courses in cyber technology, further improving the talent pool for future firms. 

Data centres

City of Perth

NEXTDC, an Australian data centre operator and one of the fastest growing technology companies in Australia, is building a state of the art data centre in Perth. It comes at a cost of A$200m ($147m), and will be the first of its type in Australia. Due to the centre’s impressive capacity, it is hoped it will both support local demand and attract international interest. The centre connects to the ‘Indigo’ subsea data cable between Singapore, Perth and the eastern states of Australia. Perth’s success in data centres highlights the city’s prominence in the tech sector, with industry mentors, universities and research institutions providing an ideal location for technology investment. 

Gaming & VFX

Montréal International 

As previously mentioned, Montréal has positioned itself as a global tech hub with a strong AI community. The city also has an exceptional performance in the video game sector. Montréal is ranked as the world’s fifth largest gaming production hub with more than 140 studios, with well-known developers like Ubisoft Montréal and Eidos-Montréal. 

In 2019, more than 15,000 video game workers were active in Québec province, which includes Montréal. The area has a perfect ecosystem for the gaming sector, with training programmes focused on the industry’s needs, and a diverse selection of global companies working in visual effects, virtual reality and IT.

Life sciences

Basel Area Business & Innovation

Basel is one of the world’s leading locations for life sciences, with a tremendous range of facilities and companies. Basel has a number of life science campuses, such as the Roche Campus, the University Hospital Basel, Life Sciences Campus and the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. More life science infrastructure investment is planned for the future, with the Switzerland Innovation Park taking up residency in the new ‘GRID Campus of Collaboration’ in 2022. Basel is well represented in the health tech and bioinformatics sectors, with a thriving community of start-ups. These start-ups are helped by the area’s ‘DayOne Accelerator’. Basel’s infrastructure investment, talent pool and sectoral capabilities are evident in the location’s data; there are more than 700 life science firms and more than 1000 academic biomedical research groups.

Proptech

London & Partners

London is the largest commercial real estate investment market in the world and is also a leading tech research centre, so it is no surprise that the city performs well in the property technology sector. The city is home to more than 500 proptech companies, representing 25% of Europe’s proptech industries. London’s universities offer eight Master’s degree courses focusing on real estate, meaning the talent pool within London is sure to attract investors. The city also benefits from a growing proptech ecosystem, with the UK PropTech Association and incubators such as HubHub. 

Advanced manufacturing

Sheffield City Region

Sheffield City Region is part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, a proposal to boost economic growth in the north of England. The region is a leader in advanced manufacturing and materials, benefiting from world-renowned research with the University of Sheffield, the Royce Institute for Research and Innovation of Advanced Materials, and the McLaren Composites Technology Centre. Boeing Sheffield manufactures actuation systems for Boeing’s Next-Generation aircraft, while Rolls Royce develops turbine blades for jet engines at Sheffield’s Rolls-Royce Advanced Blade Casting Facility. Investors can benefit from Sheffield’s well-established facilities and pioneering research ventures. 

Logistics

Spri SA — Invest in the Basque Country 

The Basque Country has a strong network of transport infrastructure and logistics. It is at the heart of the ‘European Atlantic Axis’, a high-speed rail line linking A Coruña on the Atlantic with Vigo, close to the Portugal–Spain border. The region has strong transport and logistics infrastructure, such as the Port of Bilbao. The region also benefits from a mobility and logistics cluster, which aims to facilitate cooperation, innovation and interaction to improve the mobility supply chains. 

Bespoke awards

Triple-helix approach

Invest in Lyon (Aderly)

Lyon embodies the triple-helix approach to FDI, with an impressive network of 36 higher educational institutions keen to participate in start-ups. It also involves the public sector through initiatives like the Public Investment Bank, which supports the finance of research projects. The scale of Lyon’s approach showcases the city’s success; more than 1000 startups can work with over 300 corporates and over 150 investors in the region. Prospective investors in Lyon can look forward to a superb talent pool within crucial fields such as robotics, big data and chemistry, in addition to generous financial packages.

Access to funding

Berlin Partner for Business and Technology

Berlin offers an array of funding and financing options for investors and startups, from tax breaks to public subsidies. Through a service called ‘GründungsBONUS’, startups can get up to 50% of costs incurred within the first two years subsidised (to a maximum of €50,000). Tax-free refunds are also offered to private investors who invest at least €10,000 in young, innovative small enterprises that are less than seven years old.

The city boasts more than 120 venture capitalists and hundreds of ‘business angels’, who are all part of a public network through Berlin Partner (a public–private partnership) and IBB (the business development bank of Berlin). The IBB also offers IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft, a venture capital company that invests in Berlin SMEs and start-ups at an early stage. Initial investments range from €250,000 to €1m, and are made together with other private investors — and therefore can be at least doubled. Berlin has certainly established itself as an ideal financial centre for future investors. 

Incentives

Catalonia Trade & Investment

Catalonia facilitates inward investment through a variety of incentives, from grants to training and tax reductions. The region has a generous tax rate for expats, in addition to an attractive tax deduction scheme for RDI activities. The region encourages foreign talent through the issuance of permanent ‘golden visas’ for non-EU-residents who buy real estate worth more than €500,000.

Catalonia Trade and Investment offers an incentives programme for high-impact business investments, where grants of up to €200,000 can be awarded for job creation projects, industrial investment projects and for the creation new R&D centres. In addition to this, the agency provides a service to directly support organisations with their projects and to ensure all procedures are as streamlined as possible. 

Digital strategy

Wallonia Export-Investment Agency

Wallonia, located in the south of Belgium, has a diverse range of digital activities. Their website includes a localisation tool, which facilitates the setting up of new activities in the region. Social media is used to boost the region’s visibility and drive traffic to their website. The Wallonia Agency uses short movies to promote the region, which are shown at trade shows and on social media. It is now developing VR movies to promote the region to the digital industry. The judges were also impressed with Wallonia’s use of a network of ambassadors to promote the ‘Wallonia.be’ brand through blog posts. 

Infrastructure 

AttrACT and Invest in Lombardy

Lombardy, in north-west Italy, together with Milano and Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto region) were chosen as the host cities and regions for the upcoming 2026 Winter Olympics. This is an incredible infrastructure opportunity for the region, with reported investment of €350m. This project follows a strong trend of infrastructure development in the region, with numerous completed highways and extensions of the Milan subway line. The region has also invested €1.5bn in the reconversion of the former World EXPO Milano 2015 site. It is hoped that this facility will be converted into an ‘innovation ecosystem’ bringing together science, technology, education, research, creative and commercial activities. It is positive that many of the region’s infrastructure investments have a focus on reuse and refurbishment, reducing the impact on the environment.

Soft power

NRW.Global Business

Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region displays an impressive ability to shape and attract foreign investment. The region has established a strong international network through offices in China, India, Israel, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and the UK. The agency also exhibits at international property and industry shows to directly communicate with investors. NRW.Global actively informs and consults potential investors regarding growth opportunities in the region, and many investment decisions are influenced by this information and support. The IPA’s staff keep in regular contact with industry leads to provide updates and sustain conversations.

NRW.Global recently influenced the expansions of three major Chinese digital companies: Oppo, Vivio and Xiaomi. The region offers a strong market, high purchasing power and a supportive industrial environment, making it an increasingly attractive market for Chinese technology companies. More than 20,000 international companies control their German/European operations from North Rhine-Westphalia, and the region is China’s top investment location in Germany. 

Marketing slogan

City of Reykjavik

Reykjavik impressed the judges with their short and impactful slogan: “Reykjavik — pure energy.”

Vision

Spri SA — Invest in the Basque Country

The Basque region in northern Spain has a clear vision and recognises its long history as one of the most powerful industrial areas in Europe. It has cemented a strategy of the ‘Four I’s’: investment, industry, innovation and internationalisation.

The region is committed to remaining a competitive location, with a strong talent pool of highly productive workers and high standard of living. The Basque Country recognises its strengths, advertising itself as an ally where ‘smart innovation, clean energy and advanced manufacturing meets’. 

This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.