When, in 2017, the pleasant but not exactly glamorous French city of Lille made it to the final two contenders for the illustrious World Capital of Design 2020 accolade, competing against sexy Sydney, local officials kept their expectations firmly in check.
“When we learned at the end of the process we were up against Sydney, we told ourselves: ‘Lille against Sydney! Maybe we might come in second but it’s already a good result’,” recounts Frédérique Seels, vice-president of economy, commerce and crafts at Lille Métropole.
In fact, Lille was announced as the winning location in October 2017.
“You know why we won? Because everybody got together; we mobilised the whole region – the mayors and all the economic actors/stakeholders in the territory,” says Ms Seels.
Leveraging the award
While clearly still relishing the unexpected victory, Ms Seels stresses that the focus now needs to be on securing tangible results from it.
“The objective is to be able to succeed with real achievements in 2020, which will be accomplished under the auspices of the World Capital of Design. We don’t only want to say that we have a beautiful territory with pretty architecture and things that are really cool – although of course that’s nice – but above all to show that we are going to go beyond this, for the city, the firms, the citizens, and the greater region,” she says.
“We will show the world where Lille is on the map but also that we are in a state of constant and dynamic progress, and that Lille can get everybody together to accomplish major achievements.”
Métropole Européenne de Lille, or Lille Métropole, is a conurbation situated in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France, on the border with Belgium. It was created in 2015 replacing the previous Communauté urbaine de Lille, and covers the part of the Lille metropolitan area that lies in France.
The birthplace of French retail giants Decathlon and Auchan, Lille has a long heritage of textiles production – an industry that went into decline in the 20th century and needed to be retooled for a modern age. “There was a big gap because the industry fell. Now, we are again at the top of innovative textile technology,” says Ms Seels.
The Lille-based European Centre for Innovative Textiles – the only research centre of its kind in France – pioneers research and development of textiles of the future for use in industries such as healthcare and automotives.
A future vision
A corporate reorganisation at Auchan will see it relocate hundreds of staff from Paris to Lille, adding 15,000 square metres of office space and 1500 more jobs locally. The company will build its expanded new hub in La Haute Borne, making it an important anchor for this development zone. La Haute Borne is one of many ‘sites of excellence’ being developed. Another is Euralille 3000.
“We know that we need to anticipate what will happen tomorrow, and Euralille 3000 [is part of the future vision]. It’s where we want to develop a business park and improve the way public spaces operate,” says Ms Seels.
“For the first phase of the project, between 2018 and 2022 we are going to reorganise a transport hub and we are going to propose new services. Then there will be a second step, at EuraTechnologies, where we will start to extend the co-operation with an eco-neighbourhood and a centre of excellence with services dedicated to new technologies. And then there is a third part in the development, which is La Haute Borne; that is where we are going to propose new real estate opportunities to match the expectation of companies and investors.”
Pressing the accelerator
Part of a global network, EuraTechnologies is a business incubator and accelerator dedicated to the ICT sector. Created in 2009, it has been ranked in the top 10 European start-up accelerators by Fundacity, and the first in France. It hosts more than 150 companies in the digital sector on a 100-hectare site that makes use of a renovated red-brick textile factory.
IBM set up a services centre in the park in 2014, where it now employs 600 people, a figure expected to grow to 1000 by 2021. In a site selection search the company put out a request for information to several cities and chose Lille because of the talent pool, education levels, transport links and social environment it offers, according to Bertrand Gourlin, general manager of the Services Centre.
Lille Métropole abounds with business parks – 180 of them, in fact, covering roughly 3500 hectares – and more are in the offing. The metropole plans to invest €1.7bn over the next three years on development plans, with €300m earmarked for business parks.
“We are the second most popular location for offices in France. We can build quickly, we have very nice real estate and we still have very well located plots of land. Also, it’s less expensive than Paris and Lyon,” says Ms Seels.
“We are one hour from Paris, one hour from London, one hour from Brussels – and that can be very important for financial people because they can find land and offices, also, because flats and households are less expensive than in other big towns of France, so the employees of the large companies can also find somewhere to be where it’s not that expensive and where you have also the proximity of the main cities of Europe. Investors find this very attractive.”