In a country known for efficiency, investment promotion is a highly-targeted exercise. Switzerland's Greater Geneva Bern area (GGBa) — which is responsible for attracting investment to the western cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Valais — is focused on expanding its well-established technology clusters.

GGBa executive director Thomas Bohn spoke to fDi about the beauty of small projects and opportunities for foreign firms to contribute to its finely-tuned knowledge base. 


Q: fDi Markets data shows that investment into GGBa’s region now exceeds the average number of project announcements in the five years before the pandemic. What types of projects are you targeting?

A: We are a small country with almost no unemployment, which means we can’t host huge projects. We prefer good, smaller projects with potential to grow. It’s also a high-cost country, and we don’t try to promote it otherwise. That means not every company and industry has a reason to come here. We are looking for companies with high-end products as they can afford to be here, and they are attracted to our clusters such as biotech, pharma and medical devices where we have a long tradition. 

Q: Foodtech is another cluster, and by sector it generated the second highest number of patents in Switzerland last year. What does the region offer foodtech firms? 

A: One hundred years ago this was a poor country with no natural resources except water from the mountains. Farming is the spirit of Switzerland, and we are developing the foodtech, agritech and nutrition cluster because we have this tradition. 

Nestlé has 10 research and development centres in the region, plus an accelerator, and they are a catalyser for foodtech companies. There’s also the Swiss Food and Nutrition Valley network which helps us introduce foreign companies to their peers, suppliers and customers. This ecosystem becomes bigger and more dynamic each year with spin-offs from the École Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL). Drone technology from EPFL is also good for micromechanics in agritech. 

Q: How does Switzerland’s watchmaking history support its nanotechnology cluster?


 Watchmaking was born here some centuries ago, and thanks to that we have an ecosystem related to micro nanotechnology. You can’t produce these things in an environment without a tradition, knowhow and mindset of precision. There are institutions like Centre Suisse d’Électronique et de Microtechnique which has around 400 engineers and researchers working closely with the innovation park in Neuchâtel called Microcity. Neuchâtel is the hotspot for watchmaking and has now become the hotspot for nano medtech. The area has medical device producers too, like Medtronic from the US which has been here for 30 years. 

Q: Biotechnology is one of the region’s biggest FDI recipients. However, there have only been a couple of investments in recent years. Is it reaching its saturation point?

A: No, there is plenty of space. GGBa has 20 people who are each responsible for a region, but starting two years ago we have someone in charge of a sector, and that is biomanufacturing. He is talking with Asian companies in particular, which have a lot of cash and need to expand. We are thinking about having someone responsible for nutrition too, as it’s another sector receiving the most traction.

We don’t have a big biomanufacturing investment every year, but we do every second or third year. The last big project was US company Incyte which opened its European headquarters in Morges in 2020 and set up a production site in Yverdon-les-Bains. So all its European facilities are now in Switzerland. And last year China’s CanSino Biologics, which has developed an inhalable Covid vaccine, opened in Geneva. 

Thomas Bohn is executive director of Greater Geneva Bern area, the investment promotion agency for Western Switzerland. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.