Q: What attributes do you feel Zwolle has as a business location?
A: The location of the Netherlands is very important for our development because from this country you can reach 95% of Europe within two hours [by air]. In Zwolle we are in the central north-eastern part of the country, with good connections by rail and motorway to the rest of the Netherlands. From Amsterdam it is one hour and eight minutes by train – it’s very easy.
We have some major economic sectors, such as plastics, polymers, e-commerce and agribusiness and food. There are large-scale sectors, which is important for stability because when there is a crisis in one sector, there are other sectors to compensate.
It is important as well that we have a very good knowledge structure. There are lots of vocational educational courses at the intermediate and higher level, and we have [several high-quality] education institutions.
And the most important thing that makes the Zwolle area unique is we have very good co-operation between the government, educational institutions and companies. It’s very normal for us to do things together, to be generous to other people: it’s not a case of ‘can I make the most profit?’, but ‘together how do we make the most profit?’ We were part of the Hanseatic League, so we did those kinds of things six centuries ago.
Also, there is a lot of innovative entrepreneurship. We are a city with a large number of SMEs – [something like] 90% to 95% [of companies in Zwolle] are SMEs. Their innovative power gives us as a city a high ranking on the national economic score; over the past 10 years we have been in the top five best-producing economic regions in our country. We connect [these SMEs] with the bigger firms in our city, so that the innovative power of the SMEs can [assist and inspire] the big firms. We are testing what kind of renewable plastics are used to make new products, for example – the development of plastic products is one of the main topics at the Polymer Science Park in Zwolle.
Our international ambitions are not so developed, but [they are] growing. The SMEs want to have more international positions to build up their markets in Europe.
There is a lot of investment capacity in the region. The SMEs that are growing here want to invest their profit in our region. The most important issue is human capital, and finding your labour force, so we plan to create a fund that will help give people the opportunity to learn for life. That fund will be €60m, which we want to invest in the development of our labour force in the coming five years.
Q: In terms of foreign investment and new companies coming in, what would you like to attract? What are the priorities for you?
A: First, we like to keep to keep the companies we already have from foreign countries. For example, we have Scania [a Swedish manufacturer of commercial vehicles], which has a workforce of 2000. It is a very important establishment here in Zwolle. We have Abbott [an American healthcare company that produces food products such as PediaSure, Isomil and Ensure at its Zwolle factory]. We want to give these companies the possibility to develop here. Then you go to new companies.
Q: You have been mayor for almost 20 years. What has changed the most in the city?
A: We are less modest than we were 20 years ago, and we are more of a player in the national field. We have a museum that is nationally famous. We have a football club that won the national cup a few years ago. We hosted King’s Day celebrations a couple of years ago – every year the king celebrates his birthday in a different city. It was in Zwolle two years ago, and everybody said [we were fantastic]. It made us proud.
There is no longer [a situation where everything happens in] the western part of the country... and we don’t get anything [in the eastern part]. We are part of a system. Of course we need Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague – but they also need Zwolle.