With another year beset by the Covid-19 pandemic drawing to a close, 2021 has seen supply chain bottlenecks, the energy transition and industrial transformation all shaping investment decisions worldwide.

Before the fDi team takes a much-needed end of year break, we take stock of the phenomena defining corporate location strategies and global economic development.


Here are ten hand-picked data visualisations from 2021:

Renewables have been on a tear this year. As the above chart from our annual fDi report shows, foreign direct investment (FDI) into green energy surpassed fossil fuels in 2020. This was the first time this had occurred since fDi Markets began tracking greenfield investment in 2003. As we await final data for 2021, this trend looks set to continue, with renewables projects leading the FDI recovery recorded in recent months.

Taxation was high on the agenda in 2021. Under the auspices of the OECD, almost 140 countries agreed in October to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%, with plans to impose it by 2023. It comes as no surprise that the US reignited efforts to reach an agreement in tax talks earlier in the year. The above chart shows how the world’s largest economy collects far less tax from corporates than its peers.

Innovation has maintained its importance across industries. Research and development (R&D) spending boomed across the world’s largest companies in 2020. The above chart shows an fDi analysis of the top 100 companies by annual R&D expenses in 2020. While healthcare and technology firms accounted for the majority of big spenders, transformation across industries has made the development of new products and services a key priority in the boardroom.

Space emerged as an economic development frontier in 2021. The above map shows how locations across the globe are planning to develop spaceports — terrestrial facilities used for orbital launches — to serve the growing commercial space sector. It is one of several growing tech-based industries being leveraged by economic developers as a means to attract investment and create high-quality jobs.

China’s FDI appeal showed some cracks this year. Greenfield FDI projects announced in China during the first eight months of 2021 were at their lowest level compared with any other corresponding period since 2003. The maturation of China’s market, alongside regulatory crackdown and political risk, has made FDI investors wary of the world’s second largest economy.

Tech sovereignty was another theme affecting global investment. The concentration of supply chains in East Asia, particularly for critical technologies such as semiconductors, was laid bare by shortages and supply chain issues. The above chart shows how the US’s share of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity has fallen from 37% in 1990  to just 12% last year. In the same period, Mainland China increased its share from almost nothing to 15%.

The fight against Covid-19 fomented major expansions in 2021 too. In the first half of the year, a record $10.2bn was poured into foreign biopharma manufacturing projects, as companies raced to increase capacity to produce Covid-19 vaccines and other therapeutics. Biotech firms such as Moderna and BioNTech also have plans to produce vaccines in Africa, which still has the lowest rate (12%) of vaccinated people of any global region.

Entrepreneurship in Africa went from strength to strength in 2021. fDi research, collected in partnership with Briter Bridges, mapped ecosystems in 17 selected countries across Africa, showing how tech start-ups are no longer the preserve of only the richest countries. Even as the pandemic disproportionately impacts many African nations, the tech sector has proven resilient, bringing with it new employment opportunities.

But working for start-ups is not always a lucrative career path, nor is technology a panacea to every social and economic ill. The above chart shows how employees hired by start-ups in Denmark earn roughly 17% less over ten years than their counterparts at larger firms. Experts believe a more balanced view of entrepreneurship and its economic development potential is required.

Finally, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of his global e-commerce empire in 2021. Given the profound impact Amazon has on global investment, we looked into what the company had done under Bezos’s leadership. The above chart shows that Amazon has created more jobs through FDI than any other direct investor since 2015.