On July 1, René Tritscher took the helm of the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), a role that includes direct oversight of its Invest in Austria division. In his first week in the job, Mr Tritscher sat down with fDi to discuss the government’s new emphasis on foreign investment, why ABA is targeting sectors instead of countries, and how the agency is connecting investors with the right employees.
Q: You’ve taken charge of ABA after leading its Work in Austria division. How much collaboration is there between these activities and investment promotion?
A: Discussions with investors over the past two years have made it increasingly clear that the availability of skilled employees and talents is a decisive, even crucial factor in business location projects. So, in September 2019, ABA set up the Work in Austria unit, which provides immigration services for international companies to help them obtain visas and work permits. We’ve already seen close cooperation between Invest in Austria and Work in Austria on some settlement projects. Foreign companies have many questions on these issues as talent is very important to them.
Q: Why is ABA pushing the country’s ICT, R&D and medtech capabilities?
A: This is part of our new strategy. We had a special situation in 2020 because of Covid-19, but also because ABA’s then-managing director took the decision to leave. That gave us a chance to make some fundamental changes, particularly in regard to investment promotion.
Until then, our most important performance indicator was the number of investments. We proposed a new strategy to our supervisory board that means we now have a stronger focus on the quality of investments, mainly concerning job creation and overall value added.
So, we now target companies in digitalisation, life sciences and medtech. We also have a general focus on R&D — specifically autonomous driving, cybersecurity and life science subsectors, such as precision medicine and gene therapy.
Q: On R&D, why is ABA so focused on collaboration between investors and universities?
A: This is very important. Austria has taken an enormous leap forward in R&D over the past two decades. The R&D to gross domestic product ratio has increased from 1.5% in 1994 to 3.2% today. In the IMD World Competitive Yearbook, when it comes to cooperation between universities and the corporate sector, we rank second in Europe — surpassed only by Finland.
We have one of Europe’s most dynamic R&D environments, as underlined by broad-based promotion and funding of research and innovation. In 2020, the Austrian business community applied for more than €1bn in research tax credits — more than ever before.
Q: The vast majority of foreign investment is from Germany. Are you striving for more diversity?
A: Germany has been our number-one investor for decades, followed by Italy. Switzerland has been catching up recently, and we see a significant increase in projects from central and eastern Europe, especially in ICT.
In general, ABA is organised geographically. But the Covid-19 crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of economies and the problems of thinking this way. So, in the future we will focus more on promising sectors, rather than geographies.
Q: How else has the pandemic changed ABA’s operations?
A: Covid has made Austrian politics more sensitive to foreign direct investment (FDI) in a positive way. That’s provided us with an opportunity to show its importance. Before the crisis, FDI was an issue for specialists. The top issues in Austria were reserved for the likes of international trade. Now, ABA has an important role in creating the government’s 10-year action plan. We’ve started a task force for high-value-added projects with the minister for digital and economic affairs. This is a sort of one-stop-shop for large investors, where ABA is the coordinator for other federal and regional institutions.
After being forced to work from home, ABA digitised almost every internal process and merged its three customer relationship management systems — one for each division — into one. We’ve also intensified the cooperation with our regional agencies.
René Tritscher is managing director of the Austrian Business Agency which encompasses Invest in Austria, Work in Austria and Location Austria.
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