Basel seeks high-tech businesses

Novartis headquarters in St Johann Basel - one of the engines that drives the Basel area economy Keystone Archive

The chemical and pharmaceutical industries have long been the backbone of Basel's economy.

This content was published on December 29, 2001 minutes

But the Basel Area Business Development (BABD) office is striving to attract high-tech businesses to the area.

Werner Resch of the BABD, which works in the two cantons of Basel City and Basel Country, told swissinfo how he saw the future of the region's economy.

"We expect the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to maintain their position as the driving force in the Basel area economy," explained Resch. "But our job is also to bring to this area new businesses not related to the traditional industries."

Basel started out as a centre for dye manufacturing for the local ribbon industry in the late 19th century and the region is still home to Switzerland's largest concentration of chemical and pharmaceutical groups such as Ciba, Roche and Novartis.

"Basel is an excellent location for international businesses: it has all the facilities and infrastructure that's required," said Resch. "We have an airport and also we have what is most important for business - highly qualified manpower."

Presence of traditional industries

The continued presence of these traditional industries also acts as a pull for new businesses.

"Through the many mergers we've seen in the sector have come a bundle of spin-off companies and many of these have remained in the area," said Resch. "Obviously this concentration attracts companies from outside of Switzerland as well, bringing in firms that work in research and development, services and biotechnology."

One potential limitation, according to Resch, is a shortage of space. "It's a small area so we cannot offer hundreds of thousands of square metres to companies looking to set up here.

"What we are looking to attract are research and development companies, companies working in the service sector and banks, as well as companies in telecommunications or new media - generally speaking high-tech companies are what we're after."

Among the companies which have been attracted to Basel in recent years is the medical Internet group, GetWellness. Its co-founder, Barbara Staehelin, told swissinfo that their choice of locations fell between Basel and Zurich.

"In the medical field Basel has a very good set up with the closeness to the pharmaceutical industry meaning we have access to very good people who we rely on a lot," explained Staehelin.

"I must also say the local government was very good to us as well, offering us tax relief which showed they have an interest in smaller more innovative companies setting up shop here."

Werner Resch and his colleagues at BABD have attracted 70 foreign businesses to the region since their office opened five years ago. Resch explained that his organisation's job was to find out what companies are looking for and then help them to find it.

Why Basel?

Marc Lucas decided to locate the headquarters of his company, Europe Reinsurance, in Basel two years ago. He told swissinfo why he felt the city had more going for it than some other locations within Switzerland.

"Bern is the capital but it doesn't have a reinsurance tradition; Geneva is French speaking and too tucked away in the [southeastern] corner of Switzerland for our business," explained Lucas. "In the end we picked Basel over Zurich because of the fantastic service the local business development office offers."

"They helped me locate the office, register the business, even register my car and find my house - basically Werner Resch held my hand from the first day."

Basel's two cantons have a total population of 500,000 with a gross regional product of SFr37 billion ($20.6 billion), ranking the area as the second most important economic centre within Switzerland, said Werner Resch.

One of its most attractive aspects for businesses is Basel's location. It borders France and Germany, and some 50,000 workers cross into Switzerland to work in Basel area every day.

"The area around Basel is very international so it is very easy to settle in here," said Marc Lucas. "A lot of languages are spoken and you don't feel like an outsider if you don't speak perfect German."

by Tom O'Brien

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?