There is a well-known American rock song that contains the refrain “if you can’t be with the one you love… love the one you’re with”. That might make a good anthem for investment promotion officials at a time when greenfield FDI levels have still not managed to return to their pre-crisis levels.

There is a constant, and justifiable, need to chase new investors, and locations must seek to diversify and upgrade their suite of investor companies. Being overly reliant on existing investors is a dangerous game, and just as businesses must continually court new customers, economic developers must continually court new companies.


But as there is not an infinite number of potential new customers, companies in the customer-service business (which, on some level, is all of them) know that retaining existing customers is every bit as important as finding new ones. Likewise, the FDI scenario. Winning new investments from foreign companies is of limited value to locations if they cannot keep them. But it is not just about simply holding onto what is already there; it’s also about growing it.

Expansions are becoming a much more important element of the FDI market. In 2011, almost one in five FDI projects was an expansion project, according to our latest annual report on global investment trends (The fDiReport 2012, released in mid-April).

In practical terms, it is sometimes easier to get an existing customer (in the case of FDI, the existing investor) to spend more money and do more business with you than to start from scratch with a new one. However, that is if – and only if – you have a happy customer. It is a bigger caveat than one might think. Many, if not most, investment promotion agencies speak the language of ‘after care’, of investor retention, and of one-stop-shop service for investor needs. How many follow through in practice? That is difficult to measure, but fDi intends to study the issue in a survey later this year.

Our annual data suggests while global FDI levels grew in 2011, the recovery is still a fairly lacklustre one. New projects are still out there to be captured, but to play it safe, investment locations need to continue to show the love to those companies they already have an FDI relationship with.