The Walloon Agency for Export and Investment, AWEX, has just opened a fourth Welcome Office in Charleroi. A concept that works, and that is worthy of a moment of your time. So what exactly is a Welcome Office?
As you may know, the AWEX is the Walloon office responsible for promoting foreign trade and encouraging investment from abroad. The concept of the Welcome Office fits in perfectly with its role: it offers foreign companies all the facilities they need to explore the European market in general, and the Belgian market in particular. Foreign companies can come and open their offices here in Belgium if they like, at no charge, for a given period, benefiting from a range of advantages such as networking opportunities and legal advice.
“In three years, we have already opened four offices: one Welcome Office in Mons for China, one in Liège for India, one in Arlon for Brazil and Latin America, and the latest in Charleroi for European countries and the Mediterranean area”, explains Philippe Suinen, managing director. For example in Mons, no fewer than 45 Chinese companies have made the most of the services offered by the Welcome Office since it was set up in December 2009. Not bad!
European Priority Markets
But why a Welcome Office for European countries, and why Charleroi? “We need to remember that the majority of business that come to open up offices in Walloon at the moment come from European countries, mainly from neighbouring countries. It is therefore completely natural for us to carry on encouraging them to continue going down this path”, urges Mr Suinen.
At the same time, we are talking about Europe in its broadest sense: the Charleroi Welcome Office is aimed at the whole of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Russia!
As for its location, the reason behind Charleroi is mainly a practical one. “We are based on the Biopark just a stone’s throw away from the BSCA, an airport that covers most of the destinations concerned, so it’s perfect!”
A vital partnership
In Charleroi, the initiative has been formalised thanks to a partnership with Igretec, an intermunicipal organisation dedicated to the economic development of the Charleroi-Sud-Hainaut region. “For all the Welcome Offices, we have worked with a local intermunicipal organisation, which is vital”, maintains the director. Igretec’s managers also agree that the opening of this new Welcome Office will be a huge boost to the region. “Each company that sets up here will be able to access facilities suited to its specific needs, including laboratories at the cutting edge of technology, in collaboration with the Charleroi Brussels South Biopark, office space and industrial buildings that can be configured to suit requirements!”. It’s bound to be a great success, as two companies were already set up in the Charleroi Welcome Office when it was opened!Source: Amandine Cloot – Gate 16 (Jan-Mar 2013)