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Graubünden draws new business with five-star service

The Graubünden cantonal parliament in Chur

(Keystone)

The Swiss canton of Graubünden, long known as a tourism centre, is attracting new business to the Alpine region as it diversifies its financial strategy.

With resorts such as Davos, Klosters and St Moritz all located within its borders, it's no surprise that 60 per cent of Graubünden's income comes from tourism.

But now the canton is using top-drawer service to attract investors, offering assistance that varies from helpful contacts to tax breaks, loans and even cash injections.

Eugen Arpagaus, head of Graubünden's economic promotion office, told swissinfo that the cantonal government had three targets in mind for diversifying its economic base.

"Our first target for investment in the region is industrial production. We want to attract companies involved in everything from development to distribution," explained Arpagaus. "The second focus is on information technology, as there is a wide range of possibilities in that sector, and the third one is international trading companies - we want to build a trading hub here."

Work permits to venture capital

Graubünden, Switzerland's largest canton by land area, has a population of just 190,000, with 35,000 of those residents in the canton capital, Chur.

The economic promotion office was set up in April of 2000, with its job, according to Arpagaus, to streamline the process for those wishing to invest in the region.

"On a practical level, we organise work permits, evaluate locations, get in contact with the banks or venture capitalists,"said Arpagaus. "We also help companies develop contacts with the technical college in Chur and help them find staff, while also dealing with more personal needs such as where to live and where the children should go to school."

Among the companies that moved to the region in the last year is information technology group i-te.ch. Its communications director, Jörg Brimer, told swissinfo he was pleased with the help his firm received from the promotion bureau, which "made everything possible - from which offices to visit to which permissions we needed."

"In a big city we are one of a thousand other companies but here we are well known and there are very direct routes to various offices and the people who make the decisions."

Graubünden's smaller population means the local government is smaller as well, which, according to Arpagaus increases the efficiency of the canton when helping new firms set up.

New companies, new jobs

That, along with the alpine setting and the well-educated population, makes investment in the region more attractive, Arpagaus said.

The economic promotion office drew eight firms to the region during its first year in business. They brought an estimated 100 to 120 jobs to the region.

The canton's latest project is an initiative to create a cluster of information technology firms in the region. The association represents the "Graubünden IT Cluster" consisting of 35 companies with more than 100 IT specialists.

Companies interested in moving to the region can contact the economic office to request tax breaks, low interest loans or even small cash injections.

by Tom O'Brien

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