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Neuchatel leads the way in economic promotion

Le Banneret Fountain in Nuechatel. Neuchâtel Tourism

The canton of Neuchatel, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, was a pioneer in its efforts to promote the canton economically.

This content was published on December 29, 2001 - 10:32

The Economic Promotion Office has been open for 15 years already, leading the way for other cantons across the country.

Historically the canton has been a centre for the watch and other precision industries. But the watch industry was plunged into crisis some 25 years ago as the onset of quartz technology threatened the canton's major business concerns.

That crisis led the canton to set up its economic promotion office in an effort to diversify investment within the region.

Pierre Comte is managing director of the promotion office and he told swissinfo that the canton's historical dependence on these traditional industries has changed.

"In the last 25 years the canton has diversified its industry," explained Comte. "The canton went from building watches to luxury products, from precision machining to micro systems and we also have a strong medical devices sector."

In fact the canton now relies upon its historical reputation within precision industries to attract new investors. As part of that process the Economic Promotion Office helps companies interested in moving to the canton find premises, staff and equipment.

Apparently though higher costs in Switzerland have put off some investors from coming to Neuchatel. But Comte believes that other factors should be considered as well.

"When we consider social charges and of course the productivity of the Swiss workforce we see that Switzerland is an attractive spot for manufacturing companies," added Comte.

The Economic Promotion Office, which is looking to attract mainly high tech and manufacturing companies, has brought in some 400 firms to the region the past fifteen years.

Paul Phillips, managing director of United States-based hearing technology group Starkey, said to swissinfo that the economic incentives offered by the canton were key in attracting it to locate there back in 1986.

"The area of Neuchatel and the surrounding communities are fairly world famous for their skilled labour in micro-electronics, low power circuit design and also the manufacturing of very small component type products," said Phillips, "We found those skills very attractive for us when we started here and they've continued to be helpful."

Neuchatel has not been immune to the global economic slowdown. At the end of July US group Silicon Graphics announced it was to close its Neuchatel plant with the loss of 300 jobs.

Pierre Comte at the canton's Economic Promotion Office assured swissinfo that "from the very first day the company established its activities in the canton we gave them the very best conditions".

"From that point the company has to survive across its industry and sometimes companies cannot always be successful," he explained. "There are also positive impacts form a project like Silicone Graphics they have left very well trained employees in the canton and have helped us to attract more companies into the canton."

Despite the disappointment over the closure of Silicon Graphic's plant the Economic Promotion Office continues to sell the canton as a business location to overseas companies.

"Basically what we sell is the micro-technique environment, the multi-cultural skills of the workforce and a sense for innovation in the region," added Comte.

The environment offered in this particularly picturesque region of western Switzerland is now home to many foreign companies and their employees.

Paul Phillips of Starkey agreed that he could not imagine being anywhere more suitable.

"From my office I can see several mountains and Lake Neuchatel and I have to say it's a beautiful scenery, the weather is fantastic all year round and the people have been very accommodating to us."

With a population of just 167,000, canton Neuchatel may not be the biggest of Swiss cantons but its reputation in the precision industry field has certainly brought it worldwide investment interest.

by Tom O'Brien

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