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Vaud builds economy on educated workforce

Nestlé's headquarters are located in canton Vaud

(Keystone Archive)

The canton of Vaud, one Switzerland's largest, with a population of 600,000, thrives with the help of its highly educated workforce. It is also home to some of the biggest names in Swiss business.

Nestlé, a worldwide leader in the food sector and Switzerland's largest industrial company, may be the best known company in Vaud.

Crucial to the regional economy, not only does it have its world headquarters in Vevey but it also has important research centres near Lausanne and manufacturing sites in Yverdon.

But Vaud cannot rely on Nestlé alone for its economic health. The canton also encourages other economic sectors, notably pharmaceuticals, watch-making and new technology. Other big names found in the canton include Breguet, Logitech and Kudelski.

Recently, the canton pulled off a coup by getting Philip Morris to move its world headquarters from New York to Lausanne.

In trying to attract new businesses, Vaud's economic promotion office can afford to cast its net wide.

Choosing Switzerland

"We have representatives in most major European markets - France, Italy, northern Europe, the UK," says the office's director, Francis Sermet, "We also promote Vaud in Asia -- mainly India - and our third pillar is North America where we have two or three representatives."

In each country, Sermet has a targeted marketing strategy to persuade businessmen of the advantages of moving to Vaud.

Sermet says most foreign companies have already decided to settle in Switzerland before they consider Vaud as a location. The country's political, social and economic benefits are well known, he says, and his job is to push the unique advantages of the canton.

These include its proximity to the Geneva airport and the highly developed road and rail network that facilitates business with other European countries.

Sermet says some people prefer to be in the French speaking part of the country too.

But one of the main selling points remains the pool of highly trained, educated and multi-lingual staff.

"We have a very high density of educational establishments such as the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. There's a very good university, one of the best hotel schools in the world and a lot of private schools too that offer tuition in a range of languages."

Financial incentives

Like other Swiss cantons, Vaud also offers attractive financial incentives in the shape of low tax rates and tax holidays for new enterprises. Corporate tax rates are in the range of 22 to 24 per cent and with reductions for start-ups and holding companies, Sermet describes the package as one of the most attractive outside of tax havens like Monaco.

The economic promotion office offers a one-stop shop for companies wanting to settle in Vaud. Sermet can help businessmen find office space, advise them on banking facilities or put them in touch with job agencies.

The French-speaking part of the country is often regarded as more outward looking than the German-speaking area. French speakers are usually far more favourable to the idea of Switzerland joining the EU for example but Sermet says the country's position outside the EU is not a huge disadvantage in attracting investment.

"I don't know of any company that has left Switzerland because the country is not in the EU and I've not noticed any slowing down of foreign investment."

Sermet adds that several American companies are currently interested in setting up in Vaud and believes that Switzerland and Vaud are becoming more and more attractive to foreign investors.

He says the Swiss economy has had to increase its competitiveness during recent years in response to the 90s slump and he believes Vaud is well placed to increase investment.

by Michael Hollingdale


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