Growing Global Investments

The United States continues to attract the lion’s share of foreign direct investment, and here’s a look at several hot spots.

By Tom Gresham
From the May / June 2024 Issue

 

When it comes to foreign direct investment, the United States continues to lead the world. Ilona Vega Jaramillo, Vice President of International Economic Development at the Miami-Dade Beacon Council in Florida, notes that Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council’s “2024 Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index” ranks the U.S. as the top destination for foreign direct investment for the 12th consecutive year. According to SelectUSA, nearly eight million U.S. workers were employed by U.S. affiliates of majority foreign-owned firms in 2021. Led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, SelectUSA is a program that focuses on facilitating job-creating business investment into the U.S.

“The general state of federal direct investment from companies investing in the U.S. is optimistic,” Vega Jaramillo said.

Michael Edgar, CEO and President of SelectGlobal, a firm offering services to firms looking to invest, said the U.S. unsurprisingly experienced a marked dropoff in FDI during COVID, but those investments have ramped up in recent years and continue to grow. “Now in 2024, we’re seeing a lot more international delegations here, you’re seeing a lot more announcements being made—on its face, you’re just seeing a tremendous number of announcements of impact,” he said.

Edgar said that FDI in the U.S. encompasses a wide spectrum of companies representing a vast range of projects—from those making billions in investments to smaller companies “landing with a suitcase.” However, across the array of businesses, one thing remains constant, noted Edgar. The United States is still viewed as “the land of opportunity.”

foreign direct investment
(Photo: Adobe Stock/Fox17)

Top Considerations For Firms

Experts see a variety of key questions for international firms considering foreign direct investment possibilities in the U.S.

“At the moment, the leading question from foreign firms is how to access venture and seed capital,” Vega Jaramillo said. “They see the U.S. market as much more aggressive in taking risks on innovative solutions. They are also looking to either establish or expand their U.S. market share and identify the best ways to enter the market.”

Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), said the U.S. holds appeal for its relative steadiness.

“At the moment, the leading question from foreign firms is how to access venture and seed capital. They see the U.S. market as much more aggressive in taking risks on innovative solutions. They are also looking to either establish or expand their U.S. market share and identify the best ways to enter the market.”

— Ilona Vega Jaramillo, VP, International Economic Development, Miami-Dade Beacon Council

 

“An overarching theme we are seeing from foreign companies looking to invest in the U.S. is stability, particularly when it comes to the political environment and cost,” Chung said. “Political unrest across Europe, such as the war in Ukraine, has increased energy costs and companies that use substantial amounts of energy are looking to the U.S. as a solution.”

Similarly, Adriana Cruz, Executive Director of the Economic Development and Tourism office for Texas, said, “With the current geopolitical tensions that exist, more and more international companies are looking for locations where they can safely and securely invest and expand.”

When identifying specific sites within the U.S., Edgar said companies with FDI projects are zeroing in on issues such as proximity to suppliers, supply chain access, land costs, labor, utilities, and speed to market—issues familiar to U.S. companies navigating the site selection process.

International companies need to feel comfortable on multiple levels to make a commitment to investing in the U.S.

“When companies are looking to grow internationally, they’re looking for the right workforce, for a robust infrastructure for lower operating costs, and a high quality of life,” Cruz said. “And really a place that they can call their second home. Foreign companies looking to come into the United States … they’re looking for a soft landing, a place where they’re welcomed, and they feel at home in the community.”

And federal legislation in recent years has helped bolster foreign direct investment in the U.S., particularly the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Of the latter legislation, Vega Jaramillo said, “That legislation is attracting unprecedented amounts of FDI (billions of dollars) to the U.S.”

Chung said federal legislation has proven to be a boon for FDI.

“For over a decade, the U.S. has remained as the top destination for foreign direct investment spurred by a federal level push with bipartisan legislation allowing manufacturing companies, particularly in the clean energy space, to invest in our country,” Chung said.

In Florida, Miami’s FDI Appeal

Among individual metropolitan areas, Florida’s Miami-Dade County area stands out for FDI activity. Vega Jaramillo said Miami-Dade holds “a special place in the world” for foreign direct investment, calling it a community that is fueled by FDI.

“As instability reigns in the Americas, Miami-Dade has long been a stable location and recipient of capital flight from the Americas and elsewhere looking for safety,” Vega Jaramillo said. “With our warmer climate, pro-business environment, and having the fastest-recovering economy after COVID, many residents from around the country moved here. Now, post-pandemic, this U.S. migration to Miami is fueling and strengthening the momentum that is essentially powered by foreign direct investment.”

Among Miami’s recent FDI projects, Vega Jaramillo pointed to BNP Paribas, a France-based commercial and investment bank; Biodiesel Las Americas, a Venezuelan biodiesel producer repurposing cooking oil from restaurants; Inter&Co, a Brazil-based fintech firm; Noven, a Japan-based pharmaceutical manufacturer; and Atlantic Sapphire, which invented and refined fish farming technology producing ocean-safe sustainable seafood.

South Florida’s designation in October 2023 as a Climate Resilience Tech Hub will give the area access to new funding, Vega Jaramillo said.

“We see a growing interest in technology startups from abroad looking to access U.S. capital markets via Miami-Dade County,” Vega Jaramillo said. “We saw this first-hand recently at the eMerge Americas Exposition, where 70-plus Spanish, 40-plus French, 20-plus Israeli startups participated. Additionally, several foreign trade offices from Costa Rica, Ireland, Hong Kong, Chile to name a few, were in attendance.”

North Carolina’s Niche

Chung said the North Carolina workforce is often cited as the key reason for FDI activity in the state.

“Our state has the largest manufacturing workforce in the southeast and a strong pool of STEM-educated workers and engineers,” Chung said. “We are also one of the fastest-growing states in the country, ranking third for in-migration. We have invested not only in the current workforce but in our workforce pipeline, ensuring that North Carolina will meet the workforce needs of these companies in the future.”

Chung said North Carolina has seen several key FDI projects come to the state since the start of 2023. Those projects include Siemens Mobility, which announced it will manufacture environmentally friendly passenger rail vehicles; Kempower, which will build electric vehicle (EV) charging stations; and Epsilon Advanced Materials, which will manufacture graphite for anode components for lithium-ion batteries. Major ongoing projects from Toyota and FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies North Carolina. are among the state’s other biggest FDI efforts.

Because of the number of EV battery-related projects new to North Carolina, the state is being referred to as the “Battery Belt,” Chung said.

North Carolina has proven welcoming to international businesses, he said.

“Foreign companies also want to know that when they invest in the U.S. and bring their families here that they have a similar business or cultural community,” Chung said. “For example, North Carolina is home to more than 400 German companies and a strong German community statewide with festivals, community events and German language schools. Companies can feel as at home here as they can in their home county.”

Texas’ FDI Leadership

Cruz said FDI is “a critical driver of economic growth” in both the U.S. and in Texas.

“We are proud to rank as the number one state in the country for foreign direct investment, and are really seeing a significant increase in projects coming from across the globe,” Cruz said.

Cruz said the top sources for FDI in Texas include the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Japan, France, and Spain, but the state is also seeing investment coming from countries outside of Europe and North America.

Cruz noted that Texas passed its own state CHIPS Act to solidify its leadership in the semiconductor industry. The state also established the Texas Space Commission and a new incentive program via the Jobs, Energy, Technology, and Innovation (JETI) Act.

Cruz said Texas can boast not only a diverse mix of countries with FDI in the state by a diverse mix of industry sectors, including everything from semiconductors and food processing to aerospace and aviation.

Ultimately, Cruz said nearly 2,000 foreign firms have invested in Texas, including some of the world’s largest international global brands, such as Samsung, Toyota, Kubota, Ericsson, Mitsubishi, BAE Systems and FUJIFILM.

“Economic development in Texas is a team sport, and we rely on our local and regional economic development organizations to help us to provide that welcoming environment for these companies that are looking at the U.S. as a potential location to expand,” Cruz said.

New York State: Global Reach

In the northeast, New York State is a thriving center of global commerce and investment. Since 2003, New York State has seen foreign direct investment of over $95 billion in more than 3,000 projects, according to fDi Markets. The top source markets for these projects supporting the largest number of jobs in New York State, in descending order, are: United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland. Top industry sectors include manufacturing, finance and insurance, and retail.

Hope Knight, President, CEO, and Commissioner of Empire State Development, said, “New York State is a global capital—and companies from around the world, across multiple industries, understand that we have the unparalleled resources to help drive their success. Our strategic investments in a skilled, diverse workforce, innovative academic-industry partnerships and cutting-edge technologies offer businesses the ability to not only grow here but to thrive.”

Recent FDI investments into New York State include IMA Life North America, part of IMA Group, an Italian company that is a global leader in aseptic drug processing and freeze-drying equipment, investing $30 million in Tonawanda, Erie County, NY. Another recent arrival is Edwards Vacuum, a British-based global leader in vacuum and abatement equipment for the semiconductor industry, that is part of the Atlas Copco Group; the company is building the first phase of the $319 million dry pump manufacturing facility in Genesee County.

Other investments include: Dassai Blue Sake Brewery, with the Japan-based company investing $80 million to establish a brewery and tasting room in Hyde Park, Dutchess County; Suntory, Inc., another Japan-based firm, relocated its global headquarters to New York City; and Niacet Corporation, owned by Ireland-based Kerry Group, is investing $121 million to expand and renovate its Niagara Falls, Niagara County facility.

On The Horizon: U.S. Election And Competition Abroad

Looking ahead, EDPNC’s Chung noted that the U.S. is in an election year, which can lead international companies to pause major decisions and commitments.

“The U.S. has been able to capture foreign investment in the last few years. However those foreign countries have invested money into their respective infrastructures, and we will begin to see competition with those home countries increase.”

— Christopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina

“With this upcoming election you have two very different viewpoints on legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, which, along with the CHIPS Act and Infrastructure and Jobs Act, has allowed manufacturing companies, particularly in the electric vehicle, solar, and battery industries, to come to the U.S.,” Chung said. “Companies are hesitant to make a big commitment when the future of these types of legislation may depend on electoral outcomes at the national level.”

In addition, he believes the U.S. may face strengthened competition from companies’ home countries.

“The U.S. has been able to capture foreign investment in the last few years. However those foreign countries have invested money into their respective infrastructures, and we will begin to see competition with those home countries increase,” he said.

Still, Edgar said the U.S. will continue to hold clear appeal for international companies in search of investment opportunities abroad.

“It’s the largest economy in the world,” he said. “The market is here, the rule of law is here. With the unsettledness of much of the rest of the world, the United States can seem like a much safer bet.

Exploring FDI At The Local Level

By Tim Nowak

As regions throughout the United States look to grow their economies, many have found foreign direct investment (FDI) as a way to bring new life and opportunities into a community. FDI has the ability to drive growth and collaboration, positively impacting local economies. When utilized effectively, FDI has the potential to not only infuse capital into regions, but also foster innovation.

These foreign companies are investing back into the region. With this investment, the goal is to grow the capabilities and bottom lines of these companies. This leads to new opportunities, such as creating new jobs, boosting wages and bringing new trade to the region.

foreign direct investment
Tour of BioMerieux in St. Louis in September 2022. Shown here: Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the U.S. (fourth in line), Yannick Tagand, Consul General of France in Chicago (seventh), and Tim Nowak, World Trade Center St. Louis (far right). (Photo: World Trade Center St. Louis)

 

Creating New Jobs and Skill Sets. According to the Global Business Alliance, international businesses invested more than $360 billion in the U.S. in 2022. Job stability and job creation can often be a result of this investment. As determined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, European majority-owned foreign affiliates directly employed an estimated five million U.S. workers in 2021.

In many cases, some of the new jobs that will be created by FDI are technical jobs where people have to learn new competency skills. Oftentimes, these new jobs bring in a new technology and equipment that is not native to the United States but could be grown here. Affiliates of foreign companies spent more than $34 billion on research and development and $160 billion on plants and equipment in 2006, according to the International Trade Administration. Once domestic workers become familiar with new technology and equipment, then that is a tool that can be utilized in the U.S.

Boosting Wages. Foreign companies often pay better than domestic. These companies want to ensure that their investment is successful and are willing to pay that premium. The International Trade Administration study showed that internationally owned companies provided an annual U.S. compensation per employee of more than $68,000. On average, U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies pay 25% higher wages and salaries than U.S. companies.

Trade Opportunities. Having a foreign owned company in the region can open the door to new trade opportunities. Foreign companies are more likely to export than domestic companies because of global relationships that are already established. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S.-Europe trade in goods reached an all-time high of $1.2 trillion in 2023. This includes European affiliates in the U.S. earning $151 billion in trade, which the second highest total ever.

“International businesses invested more than $360 billion in the U.S. in 2022.”

— Global Business Alliance

French-owned BioMerieux is an example of the holistic benefits of FDI. In St. Louis, aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas originally developed the medical technology for the aerospace program. Then it sold the company to Biomerieux in 1992, which launched its clinical application.

Today, Biomerieux employs hundreds of people throughout the St. Louis region. The company exports 80% of its manufactured products to international partners and regularly relocates French management and their families to St. Louis as the company continues to grow.

When FDI enters a region, the numbers show that this investment will likely bring a positive effect on the local economy. These businesses will likely lead to new projects, investments, jobs, foreign talent, and expansion, which are beneficial to a city and region.

Nowak is the Executive Director of World Trade Center St. Louis (WTC). As the international division of St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, WTC has supported growth for the region’s businesses in an increasingly global marketplace.

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