In these cold days, I was asked to write something on our warm and hospitable region of Antwerp and Waasland and our Chamber of Commerce.
I am not an original inhabitant of Antwerp, nor of Waasland – which are basically the right and left bank of the river Scheldt; so I can state in a neutral tone (or somewhat biased after working here for 9 years?) that Antwerp-Waasland is a warm and fun region to live and work in – though the weather does not always reflects this.
The more than 70 nationalities living or working in the diamond quarter alone will certainly concur with me. As well as the tourists from around the world, who know to find us in these dark winter days. They can enjoy the China lights in the Zoo of Antwerp, a must-see and one of the oldest ones in Europe by the way. Or people can enjoy their season’s shopping in the nice and exclusive shops along the Meir, the Keyzerlei and other exclusive streets. Japanese tourists will go to the recently unveiled statue of orphan boy Nello and of the dog Patrasche, the lead characters in the story “A Dog of Flanders” of 1872. This a-typical Christmas story takes place in Hoboken and Antwerp. The cathedral of Our Lady and the paintings of Rubens play an important role in it. With a message of pride and unconditional friendship, the story is deeply touching. Next to that you have the cosy and fun winterbars, ice tubing and even a Christmas market where it is wonderful to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. So the quality of life you find in our region is excellent, and I did not even refer to our top gastronomy with several Michelin starred restaurants or the delicious chocolates.
You cannot understand our region, and our Chamber, without the understanding of our good way of life. At the same time you also need to know that the region and Chamber is deeply embedded and connected to the history of this region. Antwerp has long been an important city in the Low Countries, both economically and culturally, especially before the Spanish Fury (1576) during the Dutch Revolt. The inhabitants of Antwerp are nicknamed Sinjoren, after the Spanish honorific señor or French seigneur, “lord”, referring to the Spanish noblemen who ruled the city in the 17th century.
Wonderful artists such as Pieter Paul Rubens, Antony Van Dijck and Jacob Jordaens come from our city. By the way, 2018 will officially be declared the Rubens Year with a renovated Rubens’ house museum and a Rubens’ Experience Center to explain the mark he made on international painting art.
With more than half a million inhabitants, Antwerp is currently the largest city of the Flemish region in Belgium, and the second largest city of Belgium after the capital Brussels. Antwerp is the thriving economic centre of Belgium and the ‘Gateway to Europe’.
The province of Antwerp accounts for no less than a third of Belgian exports. Next to the presence of major telecommunications, chemical, building and pharmaceutical companies; Antwerp has played a major role for centuries as a world level port and will continue to do so in the coming years. The port is the second largest port in Europe for international shipping freight and contains the second largest chemical cluster after Greater Houston.
Furthermore, the city has enjoyed an unbroken association with the diamond industry for more than five centuries. 80% of the world’s production of rough and 50% of polished and industrial diamonds are traded in the city. As the slogan reads: “Diamonds love Antwerp.”
There is also a lot of creativity to be found here in the city… Since the Middle Ages, Antwerp has been at the heart of an important textile industry: weaving, dyeing, finishing and trading in cloth. Nowadays, the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts is considered one of the most important and influential fashion schools in the world and there are lots of wonderful people and companies active in this sector.
Next to that there is of course the fantastic transport network and a motivated multilingual workforce, all in the centre of Europe.
I have tried to give you a sense of the quality of life, some historic features as well as the important port, diamond, petrochemical and creative sectors of our region. Which brings me to the place where I love to work, the Antwerp-Waasland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In formal words, it is an independent representative organization for the businesses in our region. It aims to develop economic activity and promote a better entrepreneurial climate in our Region by lobbying, networking and offering specific services. In real words, our Chamber of Commerce and Industry is with its 3000 corporate members from all sectors and of all sizes, from the big petrochemical companies to the family owned SME’s to the motivated start-ups, the true economic driver behind our vibrant Antwerp region.
And yes, in this changing and globalized world, it is obvious we need to listen carefully to our companies, our members and of course to international trends. 43% of export originates from our region and 1 out of 3 jobs are created through export. So international business is a top priority ! We organise coaching sessions, peer to peer learning in our international business clubs and answer questions on a daily basis. Our business and study-and network missions abroad are well known. From Dubai to Shanghai to Capetown to Santiago de Chili, we have excellent bonds throughout the world and strongly believe in synergies. One of my colleagues travels ‘the seven seas’ to train other chambers of commerce on European regulations. And throughout the year, we have the pleasure to host an enormous amount of delegations and let them discover … the warmth of our region.
So would you like to discover this for yourself or see whether your company could establish itself here or partner up? You are always welcome for a cup of – of course warm ! – coffee and some advice. We hope to welcome you soon!