Destinations For Foreign Direct Investment: FDI Lives Here

The competition for foreign direct investment is intensifying, with locations far and wide vying to become prime destinations for FDI.

By Jenny Vickers
From the September/October 2018 Issue

Anyone who’s searched for a new job knows that diligent networking and a set of good references are tried and true methods to get your foot in the door, step inside and take a seat at the desk where you’ll begin your new career.

foreign direct investment
Gov. Kay Ivey, third from left, visits the site in Alabama where Hyundai is building an engine component plant as part of its $388-million expansion in AL. (Photo: Alabama Governor’s Office)

Well it turns out that old-fashioned shoe leather and relationship-building also are essential tools for success in the global competition to become the destination of choice for foreign direct investment. Locations that are ahead of the FDI curve are busy conducting trade missions and setting up liaison offices overseas. The most creative programs are turning the foreign companies who already have put down roots within their county lines or city limits into top-notch recruiters.

Like the football coaches who direct the offense from sky boxes in stadiums, “advisory committees’ made up of top execs from corporate transplants are making FDI “draft picks”—and helping to recruit them—from related industry clusters overseas.

In making our editor’s picks of FDI destinations worth watching (and learning from), we made sure to give you a multi-tiered look at how the best practices to secure foreign direct investment are being applied at the state and metro levels, as well as across the Pond.


Alabama has been a prime destination for foreign direct investment for a generation, attracting more than $30 billion in FDI since 1999. These investments have come from 32 different countries, creating more than 88,000 jobs in the state. Germany, Japan and South Korea are the top sources of FDI for Alabama.

foreign direct investment
Gov. Ivey shakes hands with Toyota President Akio Toyoda while Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai looks on at the announcement of the Toyota-Mazda project in Huntsville. (Photo: Alabama Governor’s Office)

Between 2013 and 2017 alone, Alabama has attracted $8.6 billion in new FDI, along with nearly 17,000 jobs. The largest annual haul in foreign investment during this period came in 2015, when AL brought in $3.4 billion for projects creating 4,490 jobs.

Across the world, Alabama is seen as an attractive location for investment in advanced manufacturing operations. The state’s workforce is a key reason: Alabama’s workers have proved they can make luxury automobiles, passenger jets, ships, rockets and just about everything else. Alabama is a “right to work” state, meaning workers can’t be forced to join a union. The state has a business-friendly environment, with low taxes and a low overall cost of doing business.

Alabama also offers companies a solid infrastructure system, with a deep-water port, an extensive interstate system and airports capable of handling international cargo.

Alabama has scored some of the most coveted FDI projects in recent years, and 2018 may yield the biggest haul to date. In January, Toyota and Mazda announced plans to invest $1.6 billion to open a joint venture auto assembly plant in Huntsville. The plant will have the capacity to build 300,000 vehicles annually, with production split evenly between two lines to produce a new Mazda crossover model and the Toyota Corolla. The new Alabama facility will create up to 4,000 jobs. Production is expected to begin by 2021.

“In a single generation, Alabama has become a powerhouse in the auto industry, and the Toyota-Mazda joint-venture manufacturing facility will provide another potent catalyst for sustained growth in the sector,” said AL Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We expect the new facility in Huntsville to act as a magnet for substantial new industry investment and job-creation that lifts communities and families across the state.”

In May, Hyundai announced a $388 million investment to construct a facility on its Montgomery campus dedicated to manufacturing engine heads and enhancing existing operations to support production of new Sonata and Elantra sedans. The South Korean automaker is preparing for its next-generation Theta III engine, which requires new technologies and components. The project will create 50 new jobs.

In July, Honda announced its second expansion in Alabama in just over a year. The $54.8 million expansion added 50,000 square feet to its Line 2 operations, improving flexibility, strengthening efficiency and preparing for future technologies. In August 2018, the Japanese automaker formally opened two logistics buildings, totaling 400,000 square feet, made possible by an $85 million investment announced in 2017.

Mercedes-Benz is in the midst of a major expansion of its Alabama operation that includes a global logistics center being constructed in Bibb County, a few miles from its Tuscaloosa assembly plant. The logistics center will create 500 jobs. Mercedes also is making plans to begin construction on a 1 million-square-foot facility to produce battery packs for electric vehicles entering the Alabama assembly line in coming years. Together, these developments represent a $1-billion investment for the German automaker, which initially set down roots in AL in 1993.

European aerospace company Airbus has been in constant growth mode since launching production of its A320 family of passenger jets at its $600 million Alabama manufacturing facility in late 2015. Today, the factory in Mobile looks poised for more growth. Airbus and Canada’s Bombardier have announced plans to open a second assembly line in Mobile to produce Bombardier’s C Series airliners, renamed the A220 Family. An expected $300 million investment would create 400 jobs. At the same time, Airbus is considering a plan to expand A320 Family production at the Alabama facility, adding 200 more jobs.

LG Electronics, a leading provider of residential solar panels in the U.S., is investing $28 million to open an advanced solar module assembly plant in Huntsville, creating 160 jobs. South Korea-based LG will establish the new factory with two production lines at an existing building on the company’s 48-acre campus in Huntsville, where the company has had operations for four decades. The new jobs will increase LG’s employment by 60 percent, to more than 400 workers.

In June 2018, GE Appliances announced plans to invest $115 million in an expansion of its manufacturing facility in Decatur that will add 255 full-time jobs, bringing the Alabama plant’s total employment to 1,300. The project will add 40,000 square feet to the plant, along with new cutting-edge manufacturing equipment that advances the company’s plans to transition to a fully interconnected digital factory. Overall, the investment will boost production capacity by 25 percent and make the Decatur plant a “refrigerator super site” for GE Appliances, which is owned by China’s Haier.

In July, BAE Systems announced a $45.5 million expansion of its operations in Huntsville, where it will add 200 jobs. BAE Systems said the multi-phase growth plan includes the immediate expansion of its offices in Huntsville and the development of a state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility. Work at the facility will consist of new programs and existing business, including the design, development and manufacturing of precision munitions and aircraft survivability technology.


An Indian technology consultant’s 2,000-job technology and innovation hub in Raleigh. A Swiss banking giant’s 1,200-job expansion in North Carolina’s world-renowned Research Triangle Park. A Chinese tire manufacturer’s 800-job, $580-million plant complex in rural Eastern North Carolina.

foreign direct investment
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Triangle Tyre Chairman Ding Yuhua toast the Chinese tire manufacturing company’s plan to build a $580-million facility near Rocky Mount that will bring 800 well-paying jobs to eastern North Carolina. (Photo: Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina)

Those are just a few of the diverse, big-win foreign direct investment announcements in North Carolina over the past year, projects located in communities large and small across the state.

FDI is an important driver of job creation and capital in North Carolina’s economy. Year-over-year increases in foreign investment moved NC into the top tier among states in attracting FDI.

Over the past 10 years, businesses rooted in 42 different countries and 35 different industry sectors have expanded or established new operations in North Carolina, according to fDi Markets. Between 2008 and 2017, more than 420 foreign parent companies announced projects in the state, and those projects were expected to invest $17.2 billion and create 54,966 new jobs.

In 2017, for example, North Carolina ranked fifth nationally and first in the Southeast for total dollar amount of new FDI recruited to the state, according to Markets. And the state ranked sixth nationally and second in the Southeast for jobs connected to FDI project announcements.

In 2017, 60 foreign-based companies announced FDI projects in North Carolina, a 24-percent increase over 2016. Those FDI deals are expected to create $3.2 billion in new investment in the state and more than 8,100 new jobs.

In terms of employment, the top industry sectors for incoming FDI in NC include: information technology, automotive components, textiles, industrial machinery and consumer products. The top sources for FDI coming into NC include Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Switzerland.

Here are some of the key assets that are attracting FDI to NC:

A fast-growing population. North Carolina’s population is at 10.2 million and growing, and the state is now the nation’s ninth-most populous. North Carolina saw a net gain of more than 86,000 people relocating to the state from July 2016 to July 2017—the fourth highest in-migration in the country. Being one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. supplies a steady pipeline of talent for business.

Strong manufacturing and professional workforce. At more than 464,000 employees, North Carolina has the largest manufacturing workforce in the Southeast U.S. That workforce has grown 5 percent over the past five years and is projected to continue growing. Meanwhile, the state’s professional, scientific and technical services workforce has grown 16 percent over the same period to more than 230,000 employees, one of the highest growth rates for that sector in the U.S.

A business-friendly tax climate. North Carolina’s 3 percent corporate income tax rate is the lowest among all 44 states with the levy. And that rate is scheduled to drop to 2.5 percent in 2019. In addition, in 2018 the state fully implemented single sales factor apportionment for multistate corporations. Corporate income subject to state tax is now based solely on revenue from NC sales.

Affordable business operating costs. North Carolina’s cost-effective business environment is clear across several measures, including construction costs (16 percent below the national average in metropolitan areas) and industrial electricity costs (nearly 7 percent below the U.S. average). According to Forbes, NC has the second-lowest business costs—covering labor, energy and taxes—in the country.

Here are some major FDI project announcements that have been made in NC during the past 18 months:

  • Infosys (India), a global leader in technology consulting, choosing Raleigh for a technology and innovation hub that will hire 2,000 employees by 2021.
  • Triangle Tyre (China) investing $580 million and creating 800 new jobs for a cutting-edge tire manufacturing plant near Rocky Mount.
  • EGGER Wood Products (Austria) creating 400 jobs and a $300 million particle-board manufacturing plant near Lexington, a facility that the company expects to grow to a $700 million operation with 770 employees over the next 15 years.
  • Fresenius Kabi (Germany) expanding its pharmaceutical manufacturing operation in Wilson to create 445 new jobs in a $100 million-plus investment.
  • Credit Suisse (Switzerland) investing $70.5 million in a new building at its Research Triangle Park technology hub, which will add 1,200 positions to the roughly 1,700 it already employs in the region.
  • AXA Financial Group (France) nearly doubling its workforce in Charlotte, where it is adding 550 jobs in an $18 million expansion that will make the location in Charlotte its largest in the U.S.


Florida is a leader in attracting FDI, ranking 7th among all U.S. states in employment by majority foreign-owned firms, according to the fDI global greenfield investment trends 2018 report. Over the last decade, the U.K. has been the top source of FDI projects with nearly 14,000 new jobs created. The France market, which covers France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, alone has provided services to nearly 1,700 companies garnering over $200 million in capital investment and over 2,000 jobs.

foreign direct investment
Gov. Rick Scott and Mayor Lenny Curry joined Macquarie Group at the opening of their global financial services center in Jacksonville in 2016. (Photo: Enterprise Florida)

According to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the principal economic development organization for the state, its strategy for attracting FDI is firmly anchored by global relationship building. EFI has an international program that upholds a broad network of offices in various markets, each with a full-time representative offering businesses everything from trade to FDI services. The global markets in which these offices are located include: Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Spain and the U.K.

“Much of the state’s FDI success is attributed to the key role that EFI’s international offices play in representing Florida on the global stage,” said Tim Vanderhoof, EFI SVP of Business Development.

While Florida’s FDI project successes span across a variety of industries, several companies have recently established American/U.S. headquarters in the state.

In March 2017, Cosentino Group, a family-owned architectural company from Spain, relocated its Americas headquarters from Sugarland, Texas to Coral Gables, creating 85 new jobs and investing more than $1 million in the local community.

“Miami’s location offers key strategic advantages to continue targeting the Americas,” said Eduardo Cosentino, CEO of Cosentino Group. “The entrepreneurial and innovative workforce in Miami better positions us to provide new products and designs that are both sustainable and advanced.”

With 18 locations across Florida, Sixt, a German rental car company, located its U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale in October 2017. The company will create 300 new jobs and invest more than $10 million in the area.

“We looked at a number of locations in carefully selecting our new U.S. headquarters, and, at the end of our search Florida clearly came out on top,” said Sebastian Birkel, Sixt North America Co-President. “The state went out of its way to work with us, encouraging Sixt to plant even deeper roots here.”

The global car company chose Broward County over sites in Texas, Georgia and California. Now, the company can be closer to its largest rental locations, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport.

In 2016, Macquarie Group, a global provider of banking, financial, advisory, investment and funds management services, opened its global financial services center in Jacksonville, adding more than 120 jobs to the area.

The company chose Florida to locate its global financial services center over nearly 20 other locations in the U.S. and around the world.

“We are thrilled to now be able to call Jacksonville home for our expanding company,” said Patrick Upfold, Macquarie Group Chief Risk Officer and Head of Risk Management Group. “The talent we have already secured from Jacksonville is top-notch, and it reiterates what we already know about Northeast Florida—Jacksonville’s rich talent pool, incredible quality of life and downtown growth provide us the key ingredients to continue growing our operations in the U.S.”

According to EFI, one of its primary keys to building strong international business relationships is providing exceptional service. Having a representative in-market has played a crucial role in this process. “They offer stability and reassurance to international customers with consistent, ongoing communication,” said Vanderhoof.

Considering the average length of time it takes a project to establish is two to three years, the in-market representatives ensure that Florida stays top of mind through consistent communication and exceptional customer service. According to Vanderhoof, the years of research and relationship building often leads international businesses to invest in Florida.

“Another key to building strong international business relationships is focusing on country clusters” said Vanderhoof. “Once EFI has recruited a company into a particular community, we’ve seen a pattern with that company in turn recruiting their suppliers and partner businesses to the state as well.”

Lastly, Florida’s ties to the Latin American and Caribbean markets is an unmatched resource for businesses here.

“This appeals to international companies because it communicates that Florida is not only open to business investment, but also to cultural diversity,” said Vanderhoof. “Not to mention the built-in customer base that Florida offers as the third largest U.S. market, and the ease of access to trade through the state’s top-ranked infrastructure system. These are all factors in the overall equation of Florida’s continued FDI success rate.”


Foreign direct investment is key to the economic renaissance underway in Illinois. Foreign-owned companies are vital contributors to Illinois’ economy and a new source of revenue. With more than 1,800 foreign owned companies already calling Illinois home and contributing more than $100 billion to the state’s GDP, the potential for growth is tremendous.

Using targeted data, Intersect Illinois’ comprehensive FDI strategy focuses on key industry sectors, including advanced manufacturing, business/professional services, biotech/ pharmaceuticals and agribusiness/ food processing that targets our strongest potential partners in western Europe, Asia and North America.

Relationship building on an international scale is crucial to foreign investment. Over the past year Intersect Illinois has built strong international relationships while promoting the state’s assets on three separate jobs missions in Asia (China and Japan) and Europe (Germany, Italy and Poland). In addition, visits to Canada, England and Taiwan are scheduled before the year’s end. Intersect also recently coordinated a group from Illinois to represent the state and engage with FDI leaders at Select USA, the largest FDI event in the U.S.

Through proactive outreach, Intersect Illinois’ project pipeline has nearly quadrupled over the past year; the group is currently working on nearly 100 business attraction projects, more than 50 percent of which are FDI projects. That number is expected to grow and opportunities to expand as the group continues to market the state’s rich assets around the globe.

Each company is unique in why it chooses Illinois, but common reoccurring factors that come up in companies’ location decision are the state’s workforce, the diversity of its economy and culture and its access to the world.

One of Illinois’ leading resources is its unparalleled talent pool. The state’s workforce has more than 6.6 million people and more than 39 percent of adults over the age of 25 hold an associate’s degree or higher. Additionally, there are more than 200 higher education institutions statewide.

The state’s geographic position at the crossroads of the U.S. economy is another strong selling factor for most companies making location decisions. Illinois’ triple-hub airport system puts the state within a four hour flight to all major North American destinations, and its airports see the most nonstop overseas flights in the country. The state’s highway system puts 75 percent of the U.S. population within two day ground delivery, and Illinois is the only state with all seven Class 1 freight railroads. This is all in addition to the state’s two inland and 14 waterway ports. Chicagoland also is a global data network hub, with virtually every major data network in the world intersecting in the city.

Illinois is diverse, not only in its economy, but in its culture. No one industry dominates the state’s economy. Illinois is home to more than 40 distinct ethnic communities with populations of more than 35,000, and more than 80 foreign consulates have offices here. Because of these robust international business resources, Illinois has an expansive FDI network.

Here are some recent foreign direct investment projects that found a home in Illinois:

  • CSL Behring, a global biotherapeutics leader based in Melbourne, Australia, recently announced plans for an estimated 1.8 million-square-foot expansion of its operations in Kankakee, IL. The expansion will include a $240 million, 300,000-square-foot, seven-story tower building. The company recently purchased a 74-acre former edible oil plant adjacent to its existing 65-acre site.
  • HARIBO of America, a world leader in candy manufacturing, chose Chicago for its U.S. headquarters. The candy maker plans to nearly double its IL workforce by 2021.
  • Fresenius Kabi, a Germany-based manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, is expanding in Illinois with a $250 million campus outside of Chicago that will be complete in 2020. The company has more than 2,500 U.S. employees, 60 percent of which are based in Illinois.
  • Michigan-based electric vehicle startup, Rivian Automotive, selected Illinois for the site of its new manufacturing facility. The company purchased the former Mitsubishi Motors North America facility in Normal, with plans to invest $40.5 million into the factory over the next five years. Vehicle production is slated to begin in 2019. The Town of Normal extended an incentive package to Rivian, including a five-year tax abatement and a $1 million grant, contingent upon the hiring of approximately 1,000 workers and a $175 million investment into the site through 2024.
  • Vetter Pharma purchased a 17-acre property in Des Plaines in 2017 for its U.S. headquarters. The pharmaceutical company, based in Germany, will build out its North American footprint at the former Salvation Army property with plans to develop a 1.2 million-square-foot campus, including a production facility, warehouse, offices and laboratories. The HQ project will create 500 jobs at the Cook County facility.


Home to some of the most advanced international trade ports in North America, a pro-business climate and the second-largest civilian workforce in America, Texas has made a name for itself as a sought-after location for foreign business investment. In fact, Texas is the No. 1 state in the nation for FDI and FTZ Activity, according to Business Facilities’ annual State Rankings Report.

In March, Gov. Greg Abbott embarked on a nine-day business development mission in India. During the mission, two industry leaders joined the ranks of companies expanding in Texas: JSW Steel, which announced the intention to invest $500 million into its steel manufacturing infrastructure in Baytown, TX, and Wipro Limited, which announced a new 45,000-square-foot Texas Technology Center, which will initially employ 150 workers in Plano, TX.

In April, Tata Consultancy—India’s largest multinational business group—announced plans to expand its presence in Texas, adding 200 jobs to its operations in Plano.

Key to Texas’ standing as a top location for FDI is its central location and access to domestic and global markets via 32 FTZs, which enable the flow of goods for foreign companies actively involved in trade and distribution. Home to the Port of Houston, the second-largest port in America and the world’s largest petrochemical complex, the state’s infrastructure is built to support trade. In fact, Texas has led the nation in exports for the past 16 consecutive years, exporting $264 billion in goods worldwide in 2017. Texas’ 32 designated trade zones allow goods to enter and exit without formal customs entry, import quotas or other restrictions.

Home to more than 380 airports, Texas has the second-largest airport system in America. Its world-class airports allow for seamless business travel across America and the world. Texas airports offer direct flights to major international cities, including Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and London. In addition to air and sea travel, Texas has more miles of public roads and freight rail than any other state in America.

If Texas were a nation, it would have the 10th largest economy in the world based on GDP, ranking ahead of countries like Australia, Mexico, Spain and Russia. This economic strength is linked to business investments from some of the world’s top companies. Texas is currently home to almost 1,400 foreign companies such as Toyota, BAE Systems, Siemens and Shell Oil.

In 2016, Gov. Abbott launched the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), which aims to attract internationally recognized researchers to Texas institutions of higher education by providing matching funds. In addition to having a strong university pipeline, Texas’ consistent population growth contributes to its talent base. In 2017, Texas’ population grew by the largest number of any state in the country, as it has for every year this decade. In the past seven years, the state’s population grew by 3.1 million—that’s nearly 1,100 new residents per day—thanks to a high quality of life and low cost of living.

Smith and Nephew Inc., a London-based biotechnology manufacturer, announced in March plans to expand its Fort Worth operations. The company currently employs nearly 200 Texans there and will create 100 new jobs by the end of the $29 million proposed project. Beyond this recent investment, Texas is home to the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center, and more than 5,000 life sciences and research firms.

In all, the state’s economic strength, paired with its unmatched infrastructure, growing workforce and industry diversity, sends a message to foreign companies that they can go big in Texas.


Raphael de Montfort feels he is benefiting from his company’s investment in suburban Richmond, VA, on multiple levels. His company, Seppic Inc., a unit of France’s giant Air Liquide, is building a plant in Henrico County. The $60-million facility, set to open in the first quarter of 2019, will make specialty ingredients for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. The plant will depend on importing raw materials and exporting products, so the proximity to Atlantic ports such as Norfolk was important, as were land-based transportation links to its U.S. customers.

foreign direct investment
Germany’s Allianz Worldwide Partners, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, runs a $2 billion a year travel insurance and assistance subsidiary in Henrico County, VA. (Photo:

“Eighty percent of our customers are located on the East Coast,” says De Montfort. “Locating here was a no-brainer.”

The combination of raw economics plus an attractive lifestyle seems to be working for the Richmond area in its quest for FDI. Over the last five years, the area has attracted $426.6 million in capital investment and nearly 3,000 jobs from 39 companies from around the world. For example, Sabra Dipping Co., a joint venture between Israel’s Strauss Group and PepsiCo, built the world’s largest hummus facility in nearby Chesterfield County; Britain’s Rolls-Royce has built a major aircraft engine component plant in the Richmond MSA.

The region also boasts a concentration of financial services firms, which is one reason Britain’s Admiral Group decided to base its American car insurance business, called Elephant Insurance, in Richmond. Germany’s Allianz Worldwide Partners, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, runs a $2 billion a year travel insurance and assistance subsidiary in Henrico County. Virginia has shied away from incentive-heavy, headline-grabbing investments from foreign automakers that other southern states have scored, but the accumulation of smaller investments have had much the same impact in terms of globalizing the region. fDi Intelligence, a magazine from London’s Financial Times, ranked Richmond as the top American mid-sized city for foreign direct investment (FDI) in its 2017/2018 rankings.

Of course, it’s not always easy to implant the Richmond name in the mind of major foreign investors. “If you’re overseas, you know where New York is and you know where Los Angeles is, but there’s some work that’s got to be done to direct the attention of a CEO of a German or a Japanese company to this area,” says Patrick O. Gottschalk, a former Virginia secretary of commerce who is now a partner at Williams Mullen, one of three major law firms in Richmond. He chairs the firm’s economic development team and about 75 to 80 percent of the projects it assists are with foreign investors.

Barry Matherly, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership, the region’s lead business recruiter, corroborates the demand to expand into the U.S. market. “Nearly 60 percent of our prospect pipeline are international companies seeking a North American operation,” he said. “We’ve traveled to Europe and Asia for more than 20 years—and most recently South America—to nurture relationships that endure U.S. economic downturns.”

It was a trip to Europe by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe that helped lure Air Liquide to Virginia. The state also has an economic development office, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, that works with would-be investors. Local economic development offices work through the regional economic development organization, the Greater Richmond Partnership, which aids investors as they seek to establish themselves.

Many outsiders might be surprised to learn that global businesses are being managed from Richmond. Allianz bought a small travel assistance business in Richmond and over the years has built it into a $2 billion a year global service provider. Mike Nelson, chief executive officer of the division, manages the business from suburban Richmond. “Only one of my direct reports grew up in Richmond,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of people who like the idea of being able to work for a global company in an exciting growth-oriented business and not having to put up with the hassles of a D.C. or New York or Chicago. This place has most of the things those places offer without the hassles.”

Another surprise is that the Allianz unit can easily find native speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and French in the Richmond area to help travelers in Latin America or Canada. “We need to have people who can speak Spanish or Portuguese fluently because it’s a medical emergency. It’s not a casual conversation,” Nelson said.

One characteristic of Richmond’s FDI strategy is that it is willing to patiently develop a foreign investor’s business on a step-by-step basis, rather than playing for big splashy announcements. One example is Britain’s Pryor Technology, which is a supplier to the aerospace and automotive industries internationally and is now seeking to establish itself in Virginia to support the U.S. market. It makes equipment that puts serial numbers on components so that they can be traced in the event of a malfunction.

Alastair Morris, vice president and sales director, examined several different locations for the assembly plant he is building but was convinced that the Richmond region was the place to be.

“Rather than saying, ‘Here’s $50,000 (in incentives), now build a facility,’ they are trying to look at the whole region and develop the ecosystem,” Morris says.

One interesting twist in the Greater Richmond Partnership’s efforts to help foreign investors is that it has promoted Olga Molnar, a Ukrainian by birth, as vice president of global investment to help investors of all sizes overcome the challenges of figuring out how to navigate the American system. Having been born abroad, she understands how foreigners such as Morris are sometimes baffled by U.S. rules and regulations.

“When you are trying to set up a business, you spend too much time on absurdly small details like Social Security and health insurance,” Morris said. “If you’re doing all those things, you are not really running your business.”

Molnar’s efforts represent southern hospitality with an international accent.


Northern Ireland is leading the way when it comes to the number of tech-related FDI jobs created in the UK. According to a new EU survey, Northern Ireland is averaging 95 such roles created by each inward investment into the region. This is despite it only attracting 1.4 percent of tech-related FDI in the UK.

foreign direct investment
In July, Massachusetts-based SmashFly Technologies, announced the opening of a new office in Belfast, creating 70 jobs and contributing over 3 million pounds annually in salaries to the Northern Ireland economy. (Photo: SmashFly Technologies)

“Northern Ireland’s continued success in attracting FDI is based on a talented workforce and overall competitiveness of doing business in the North, therefore it is no surprise that the region leads the way in jobs across the UK in the tech sector as per this data,” said Michael Hall, managing partner for EY in Northern Ireland.

With a dedicated, well-funded, investment agency (Invest Northern Ireland), the region has an enviable recent track record in attracting investors and success in developing clusters in areas as diverse as cyber security, film and media and legal services.

“Northern Ireland may be relatively small in comparison to the global regions that we routinely compete against for FDI, but our existing international value proposition has proven compelling to many investors,” said Steve Harper, Executive Director of International Business for Invest Northern Ireland. “In fact, our standing as an investment location has grown post-Brexit referendum and despite political uncertainty in Europe.”

According to Harper, there is a new trend developing where companies set up operations in Northern Ireland not only to access the European market and talent pool there, but also the GB marketplace—providing a new opportunity for Invest NI to attract FDI into the region. For example, in May 2018, Republic of Ireland headquartered software company announced it is setting up a development and support hub in Belfast, creating 85 new jobs.

“Being in Northern Ireland will ensure we can tap into the great talent pool on offer and access the UK market in the future,” said Peter Coppinger, CEO of

Another company taking advantage of Northern Ireland’s location is Eirtech Aviation Services. In June 2018, the company announced it will establish a new Composites Repair Center, Eirtech Aviation Composites Limited, creating 124 new jobs in Northern Ireland.

“This Belfast facility is part of our strategy to future proof the business, ensuring we have access to the GB marketplace post Brexit,” said David Kerr, CEO of Eirtech Aviation Composites. “The first phase of recruitment is complete and we will be adding to this consistently over the next four years as we scale the business to meet the needs of our customers globally.”

To help drive investment, Invest NI adds a dedicated resource to each of its growth sector teams to drive sector development, supply chain opportunities and clustering support and align them with its investment, export, innovation and skills responsibilities.

“This ensures that we build on our strengths and core competencies in our main exporting sectors and drive the development of sectors and technologies that present opportunities for growth,” said Harper.

The cyber security sector is a huge focus. Northern Ireland is now the number one global destination for U.S. cyber security companies, according to FT fDI Markets, and the cluster continues to grow. A report by Symantec shows that the number of cyber security jobs will rise to six million globally by 2019, with a projected shortfall of 1.5 million.

“The key to establishing our global position in cyber security has been to correctly anticipate the sector opportunity and by ensuring a ready, sustainable supply of specialized talent and the resources required to provide our people with unique skill-sets to help plug the global skills shortage,” said Harper.

Belfast also is Europe’s leading destination for new software development projects, and the number one destination city globally for financial technology (fintech) development projects, according to FT fDi Markets. A host of financial services giants, including Citi, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Visa, Vela and Tullet Prebon, have well-established operations here. There is also a thriving cadre of home-grown companies such as First Derivatives and Kainos.

“Our software development sector has gone from strength to strength,” said Harper. “In the last five years, 30 companies have chosen to set up dedicated software development centers here. This calendar year alone we have made software announcements well into the double digits and the pipeline remains strong.”

Some of those investors welcomed to Northern Ireland for the first time include U.S. firms SmashFly, Bamboo Rose, HHAeXchange, Chicago head-quartered Applied Systems, Seattle-based Chef and California-based Anomali.

In July, Massachusetts-based SmashFly Technologies, which delivers software solutions to help some of the world’s largest companies run more effective recruitment campaigns, announced the official opening of a new office in Belfast, creating 70 new jobs and contributing over 3 million pounds annually in salaries to the Northern Ireland economy.

The team will include software development engineers, with a focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence, but will also function as a full-scale sales, marketing and operations hub for UK and European expansion.

“While considering Northern Ireland to expand our global software development teams, we found a natural fit for SmashFly in a talented technical community that was eager to build complex, data-driven technology solutions,” said Thom Kenney, CEO of SmashFly. “The Northern Ireland base affords SmashFly the opportunity to build a global brand, add enhanced support and service to the global customers we serve and reach new customers in the UK and wider European markets.”

In May 2018, Boston-based Bamboo Rose, a leading software platform connecting the retail community, announced it will create up to 75 new roles in Belfast with a new development center.

“The bulk of the roles in Belfast will focus on software development and engineering,” said Sue Welch, CEO of Bamboo Rose. “By tapping into the vast talent pool here, we will be able to test and develop new products and enhancements to our existing platform.”

Bamboo Rose is joining other U.S. companies attracted to Northern Ireland by the availability of highly skilled workers and a growing reputation as a world-leading technology hub.

“We are also seeing a trend for Texan tech and software companies coming to Northern Ireland for the talent they need to grow their business in a sector that is overheating in the Silicon Valley and the Lone Star State,” said Harper.

For example, Bazaarvoice, an Austin, Texas-based company opened an office in Belfast last year. The company, which offers a customer review software-as-a-service product for retailers and brands, is one of a growing number of Texas companies that are opting to make Northern Ireland their European base.

“Northern Ireland was able to offer high quality technical staff with relevant industry skills, as well as a stable ICT sector,” said Gary Allison, Executive Vice President of Engineering at Bazaarvoice.

Dallas-based Crossvale Inc., an IT consulting firm, also has a software e-engineering center in Belfast; OneSource Virtual, a Dallas-based business process-as- a-service provider, has offices in Derry, the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland; and Simply Nuc Inc., another Austin company that acts as a reseller for Intel Corp.’s INTC,—1.16% Next Unit of Computing—is setting up an operations center.

Regardless of the sector, the attractiveness of Northern Ireland rests on the availability of a well-educated, skilled and loyal workforce.

“When this is combined with cost-competitiveness, superb infrastructure and culturally compatible climate, it becomes a compelling proposition for U.S. investors,” said Harper. “And, once companies come to Northern Ireland they stay in Northern Ireland as 80 percent of new investors go on to reinvest.”

For example, Seagate Technology Plc has operated a facility in the region since 1993, investing more than 1 billion pounds in that period and employing more than 1,300 people.

Before making its decision on which jurisdiction to expand its Center for Open Source Research and Innovation, Massachusetts-based company Black Duck advertised positions it was seeking to fill in both Boston and in Belfast. The result? Belfast produced five times as many qualified applicants as the U.S.

“We recognized very quickly that Northern Ireland has both the high-quality tech professionals to meet our open source research needs and a growing cluster of cyber security focused businesses which will continue to attract more attractive candidates as we scale our business there,” said Lou Shipley, CEO of Black Duck.


Ontario, Canada is a top destination for capital investment. According to fDi Intelligence’s 2018 report on global greenfield investment, Ontario remained the leading Canadian province for FDI in 2017, making up a six percent market share of North American FDI projects.

“Ontario truly is a great place to invest and own a business,” said David Brezer, Vice President, Investment Growth, Ontario Investment Office (OIO). “The province’s vibrant mix of healthcare for all, a highly educated workforce, an immigration system that opens the door to talent, as well as fiscal and political stability, make it a tremendous place to live and work.”

foreign direct investmentOntario’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem is helping to attract new investments and multinational firms to the region. It is home to a rapidly expanding AI talent pipeline, as well as AI startups which apply machine learning to more than 15 sectors, from media and advertising, to professional services, healthcare, agriculture and software.

Toronto’s Vector Institute is advancing AI research, and is poised to drive the adoption and commercialization of AI technologies. There’s also the newly launched University of Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute, which will provide a portal for businesses to access its extensive expertise in AI.

Belgian AI firm Sentiance was drawn to Ontario due to its strong AI ecosystem. In June, Sentiance, which uses sensor data and AI to predict user behavior and adapt to user’s actions in the moment, announced it has selected Toronto to be home to its new AI R&D center.foreign direct investment

“Toronto is known as an AI hub,” said Toon Vanparys, CEO of Sentiance, in a recent interview with the Ontario Investment Office. “There’s a big pool of talent that’s very attractive, and all the big players are here.”

Vanparys and his team have found a very welcoming environment in Ontario.

“The culture in Canada is quite compatible with Europe, it’s a country that also deals with different languages and is a very open and multicultural environment,” said Vanparys.

Sentiance was welcomed by the Ontario Investment Office, which helped the firm with incorporation, legal support, HR administration and relevant grants and tax credits.

Ontario is the economic engine of the country, accounting for 40 percent of Canada’s economy. The Ontario Investment Office uses an integrated approach to attract, generate and service investments.

“We know that collaboration is vital to growth, which is why we work very closely with stakeholders, other ministries and all levels of government to form a united front to attract investment both domestically and abroad,” said Brezer. “Our approach is to focus our efforts on key sectors, key markets and Ontario’s core competencies.”

The OIO is a one-window, customer service enterprise, which includes concierge level services that provide a suite of business supports. As part of that, it has a team dedicated to streamlining and facilitating the site selection process for businesses.

“We also understand the importance of staying in touch with businesses that have already invested in the province, and we continue to work with them throughout their life-cycle so they can continue to grow, create jobs and thrive,” said Brezer.

A global company’s intelligent, state-of-the-art factory is now in Ontario. GE Power, a General Electric Company division focused on power generation solutions, set up shop in Welland, Ontario with a multi-modal facility that features cutting-edge data science and analytics technology to enhance efficiency and streamline production. This is the first facility of its kind in Canada, and is in the process of ramping up its operations.

“We are building digital Internet of things components into a factory that can work on multiple products as economic and market conditions require,” said Kim Warburton, VP of Communications and Public Affairs at GE Canada, in a press release. “It’s the marrying of all these pieces together—digitization and multi-modal—that’s really taking this facility to the next generation of factory.”

Warburton says GE searched across Canada for a potential site for its new facility. Welland stood out as the best choice. “In the Niagara-Welland area, you have a lot of skilled people who bring the different types of skill sets we need,” said Warburton. “It’s not all engineers, it’s also technologists and various other types of skilled workers. Plus you’ve got Niagara College in the region, so you also have access to skilled people through this educational facility.”

Ease of access to markets also was a key factor in GE’s decision to set up shop in Welland, which is just 30 minutes away from the U.S. border and boasts a robust transportation infrastructure. “We wanted to be in close proximity to the U.S. border,” said Warburton. “Welland’s location, combined with a really good labor force, made it an ideal location for the new facility.”

Another successful investment project is the Vancouver-based firm Slack, which recently opened an office in downtown Toronto. Slack currently boasts 3 million daily active users and 600 employees worldwide, and has offices in Vancouver and San Francisco. To date, the company has raised $540 million USD. Slack plans to hire 145 people in the city over the next two years.

“Toronto is one of the most diverse and dynamic cities in North America and an ideal location for Slack’s global expansion,” said Ali Rayl, director of customer experience at Slack in a statement provided to Start Up Here Toronto. “We looked at a number of potential locations, but Toronto stood out for several reasons: it is home to a vibrant and diverse community of educated people, it has competitive business costs and it’s a great place to live and work. We are excited to be part of this innovative community.”

The Ontario Investment Office provided Slack with an introduction to the Mayor of Toronto, gave a jurisdictional overview and helped them to understand Ontario’s R&D tax credits.

“As always, our focus is on working directly with businesses to secure investment and jobs, and ensure they have everything they need to make a smooth transition into the province,” said Brezer.


Tennessee is a hotbed for FDI, home to approximately 1,000 foreign-owned businesses that have invested more than $37 billion in capital and employ more than 150,000 Tennesseans. For 2013 and 2015, Tennessee was ranked as the No. 1 state in the United States for new jobs from Foreign Direct Investment (“FDI“), according to IBM’s Global Location Trends report. The top 10 countries investing in Tennessee are: Japan, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Italy, France, Switzerland, Sweden and China.

foreign direct investment
Gov. Bill Haslam and LG Electronics officials celebrate the announcement of LG’s $250-million, 829,000-square-foot home appliance plant, which will open next year near Clarksville, TN in Montgomery County.

Tennessee has international representatives covering 11 countries across Europe and Asia (including Japan, South Korea, China, France, Spain, Germany, U.K., Italy, Benelux region). These representatives track down business leads and keep lines of communications open with partners overseas.

“TNECD works tirelessly to recruit leading international businesses to invest and operate in Tennessee. Our strategy begins with international representatives in the field across Europe and Asia,” said Bob Rolfe, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD). “TNECD’s team travels the globe to meet with international businesses that are exploring new operations in the U.S.

In 2017, TNECD received 41 project commitments from foreign-owned businesses, resulting in 7,050 job commitments and nearly $2.6 billion in capital investment. This FDI accounted for nearly one-third of all Tennessee’s new jobs committed in 2017 and 56 percent of all capital investment committed in the state.

These major foreign projects included Japanese-owned DENSO Manufacturing (1,000 new jobs, $1 billion in capital investment), Netherlands-owned Philips Electronics (815 new jobs, $17 million in capital investment), Korean-owned LG Electronics (600 new jobs, $250.6 million in capital investment in Montgomery county) and Finland-owned Nokian Tyres (400 new jobs, $360 million investment).

“Tennessee has earned a tremendous reputation among international businesses,” said Rolfe. “With nearly 1,000 foreign-owned business operations employing approximately 150,000 Tennesseans, our record speaks volumes. That goes a long way when establishing trust with international businesses.”

Since 2011, foreign-owned businesses have pledged to invest more than $13 billion to expand or establish operations in Tennessee, creating more than 55,500 job opportunities for Tennesseans.

Existing international businesses operating in Tennessee have aided efforts to recruit new FDI to the state. Nissan and Volkswagen have both brought extensive supplier networks to Tennessee as a result of their major operations in the state.

The strong base of German companies located in the state has ties to VW’s major plant and presence in Chattanooga. Major Japanese companies operating in the state include Bridgestone Americas (headquartered in Nashville), Nissan North America (headquartered in Franklin) and DENSO North America (operates two significant facilities in Athens and Maryville).

“FDI has the tendency to snowball as international companies cluster around one another,” said Rolfe. “That’s been the case with Japanese and German companies here in Tennessee. In the past five years, we’re also starting to see South Korean companies cluster in Tennessee.”

Korean companies have also started to cluster. In 2013, Hankook Tire invested $800 million in a new factory in Clarksville. Since then, AtlasBX and LG Electronics both announced major investments in Tennessee.

In April 2018, AtlasBX, a subsidiary owned by Hankook Tire, announced it will locate its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Clarksville. The global automotive battery manufacturer will invest $75 million and create approximately 200 jobs.

“Tennessee is known for its intelligent, hard-working population,” said Ho Youl Pae, CEO of ATLASBX CO., LTD, in a press statement. “Clarksville’s thriving economy and skilled workforce appealed to our company and led to this decision, which we believe will allow our company to experience significant growth.”

ATLASBX new manufacturing facility will be completed by 2020 where it will produce approximately 2.4 million batteries per year, with a dedicated Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) line, a high-performance battery for start-up vehicles. The company also maintains a headquarters office in Nashville that was established in 2017.

“Our department places a strong emphasis on foreign direct investment and South Korean companies continue to be a great partner,” said Rolfe.

In February 2017, LG Electronics Inc. announced it will build a new home appliance manufacturing facility in Clarksville. The global manufacturer, with headquarters in South Korea, is a leader in appliances, electronics and mobile devices. LG will invest $250 million in the facility, creating at least 600 new jobs in Montgomery County.

“LG’s decision to establish manufacturing operations in Tennessee is a testament to Tennessee’s business-friendly environment, ideal location and highly skilled workforce,” said Rolfe. “We’re pleased that a company with LG’s global reputation is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to operate in Tennessee.”

LG’s new Tennessee facility will be the company’s first washing machine manufacturing operation in the U.S. and is expected to be the world’s most advanced production plant for washing machines.

“Over the past six years, LG studied eight states for the location of this facility,” said Dan Song, president of the LG Home Appliance and Air Solutions Company, in a press statement. “Tennessee is the clear choice for LG’s latest major investment in America, due to the state’s excellent business climate, quality workforce and central location for distribution to our U.S. customers.”

Last year, Van Hool, a family-owned Belgian manufacturer, announced a $47 million facility that will create more than 600 jobs. Van Hool, a manufacturer of buses, coaches and industrial vehicles, will construct an approximately 500,000-square-foot facility in Morristown’s East Tennessee Progress Center, a Select Tennessee Certified Site. The company anticipates the facility will be operational in the first quarter of 2020.

“The presence of highly-regarded technical schools and well trained workers in Hamblen County, together with the support and cooperation of all local parties involved, convinced the Van Hool executive board to make the largest investment outside Belgium in Van Hool’s 71-year history,” said Filip Van Hool, CEO of Van Hool, in a press statement.

Tennessee’s higher education programs like the Tennessee Promise also resonate with international businesses. The program allows all Tennesseans to attend two years of technical or community college for free. That’s since expanded to include all Tennessee adults with the Tennessee Reconnect program announced last year.

“These higher education programs are crucial to ensure Tennessee maintains a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of global businesses,” said Rolfe. “When attracting FDI to Tennessee, these higher education initiatives are a game changer.”