Centrally located in the powerhouse Rhine-Ruhr region – Germany’s largest metropolitan area, which includes other major cities such as Cologne, Dortmund and Essen – the city of Düsseldorf attracted a record 101 greenfield FDI projects in 2018. This amounted to $517.1m of greenfield investment, according to data monitor fDi Markets. The wider Düsseldorf administrative area simultaneously attracted a record $2.28bn of greenfield investment.

The city’s strong industrial base has long been a draw to foreign investors, such as consumer goods giants Henkel, Unilever and L’Oréal. Notably, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has had its European headquarters in the city for almost a decade, as well as R&D operations since 2011.

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“We’ve had a good experience with Chinese investment in Düsseldorf. My impression is that Huawei is quite happy with [the] location and it is expanding its business. It now has some 1000 jobs here in Düsseldorf. It is promoting 5G, for example, and we have the ambition to be at the cutting edge of this technology,” says the city's mayor, Thomas Geisel.

Start-up development

Düsseldorf’s emergence as a test-bed location for some of today’s most advanced technologies – highlighted by UK-based Vodafone’s investment in May 2018 to set up a 5G testing lab in the city – has accompanied Mr Geisel’s push to develop a start-up scene.

“We are a particularly attractive location for business-to-business startups due to our robust and attractive industrial structure,” he says. “For access to venture capital, we offer pitching formats such as ‘Rheinlandpitch’, ‘seedDUS’ for early stage start-ups, and ‘Start-ups meet investors’ for series A start-ups, in co-operation with various partners.” 

With several successful digital start-ups originating in the city, including the now-publicly traded travel website Trivago, Mr Geisel is working hard to ensure such companies get support for their development.

Quality of life

Beyond foreign investment, Mr Geisel acknowledges the challenge of managing rapid growth in a relatively small city while maintaining a good quality of life, especially considering that the population is projected to exceed 650,000 by 2035, according to estimates from the World Population Review.

“You need to strike a balance between the need for recreational spaces, additional housing and offices, as well as some space that does not follow any economic calculation. There needs to be free space for culture and off-culture to give what makes urban dwellings so attractive,” says Mr Geisel.

Efforts to address climate issues, such as the city council’s recent announcement to make Düsseldorf carbon neutral by 2035 and a plan to build an energy, mobility and sustainability-focused EUREF-Campus near the airport, illustrate the mayor’s commitment to keep the city both relevant and modern.

With €1.3bn earmarked for investment into schools – a sum unparalleled anywhere else in Germany, according to Mr Geisel – as well as continued investment into cultural infrastructure, Düsseldorf is also set to maintain the high quality of life that has contributed to its successful record on foreign investment.