It is always surprising to me that after all the effort that investment promotion agencies go to in order to promote themselves, when they get what they claim to want so badly – a real, live corporate investor, expressing an interest in their location – so many of them fumble at the first point of contact.

I hear too many stories like this to recount them on a single page, but a few classics stand out.

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There was the tourism industry executive who wanted to build new marinas so he rang up the investment agency of a country that advertised its desire for exactly this type of investor – only to be told by a sighing secretary that such an enquiry would need to go through “many, many, many” government departments. So much for the fabled ‘one-stop shop’.

It’s no wonder that some corporate investors claim that they don’t bother dealing with investment agencies at all.

The CEO of an engineering firm told me recently of his relocation to another region of the same western European country, where he is due to create nearly 200 jobs. Did the development agency of the location he abandoned fight to keep him there, I asked. “I am not even sure they know we’ve gone,” he shrugged. “We never dealt with them.”

The disconnect usually happens right from the start. For a corporate investor – especially a small or mid-sized company making its first moves into a country – it is rarely obvious where to start, who to call or, more importantly, who will be helpful.

Recently I was asked by a company looking to add customer contact centres on several continents for some inroads into the countries on its investment shortlist, where in many cases the company was struggling to get adequate information or find useful contacts.

One cannot help but think that if investment promotion agencies were doing their jobs properly, one wouldn’t need any special tricks or short-cuts or a personal introduction to the finance minister in order to carry out due diligence for a potential investment.

With this in mind, the only advice I could give our corporate readers is to make the best use of your business contacts to find out how other investors have navigated the system in the markets in which you are interested.

Or give me a call and I will tell you off the record which agencies and ministries are likely to field your phone call properly. They are often not the ones you might assume.

Courtney Fingar