Investing in the Netherlands
Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency
In the midst of the nation’s restructuring efforts, local companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), have been forced to cope with the rising business costs and manpower crunch. SMEs are increasingly pushed to adopt technological tools to further improve productivity levels, and due to the limited domestic market, SMEs have long been encouraged to venture beyond local shores to reduce operational costs.
Besides regional countries such as Indonesia or Myanmar, some SMEs are beginning to look at expanding into further regions such as Europe. The perfect location to kick-start this expansion is the Netherlands and there are various reasons why.
Strategic Geographical Location
Strategically located in the middle of Europe,the Netherlands has earned her status of being the gateway to Europe. Like how Singapore’s strategic position in South East Asia (SEA) has enabled us to become the trading hub of SEA, the Netherlands’ central location in Europe allows a large amount of imports and exports through the nation daily, making it the largest port in Europe and a great base for foreign companies to thrive throughout the continent.
Having one of the most stable political and social environments, the Netherlands boasts a fair and transparent economic environment, earning the title of The Most Attractive Country in Western Europe for Foreign Companies. Furthermore, being an open and business friendly nation has led the Dutch economy to welcome an abundance of first-rate business partners such as Microsoft, Nike and Siemens to name a few. Hosting almost 80 per cent SMEs, Singapore’s SMEs can feel very much at home in the Netherlands. Also, the fact that businesses can be fully foreign-owned and run is definitely a plus point. Moreover, in 2015, a new regulation makes it possible for ambitious entrepreneurs outside the European Union to apply for a temporary residence permit for the Netherlands, which lasts up to a year. Known as the “start-up visa”, it allows entrepreneurs to launch an innovative business. The only prerequisite is that an experienced mentor that is based in Netherlands is required to guide the startup. After one year, the entrepreneur can extend the duration of his or her residence permit on the basis of the Dutch government’s self-employment scheme.
Technology and Infrastructure
Similar to Singapore, the Netherlands is one of the most ‘wired’ countries. Investing in high-speed internet, implementing state-of-the-art communication systems and the rapid adoption of smart technology, makes the nation an ideal base for foreign companies seeking to take advantage of modern technology. Furthermore, ranked fifth in the 2014 Global Innovation Index, the Netherlands is home to more than 10 leading innovation hubs, where SMEs and start-ups can benefit from the world-class incubators and R&D facilities available.
The Dutch economy is a hardworking one with its workforce being one of the most highly educated and motivated. Another plus point is language, as the Dutch are multilingual and most certainly English speaking. Some prominent industries that drive the Dutch economy to innovation and sustainability are the agricultural and food, chemical, healthcare and, water and maritime sectors. For businesses that do not fall under any of these industries but are looking to expand into Europe, the Netherlands, with its pro-business culture, first rate technology, and a knowledgeable and skilled workforce, remains a great choice for expansion and growth. However, in past business sentiments surveys conducted by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), SMEs have often raised concerns about expanding overseas such as the unfamiliarity with the region’s language and cultural practices or the lack of awareness on the rules and regulations of the country. At the top of these concerns, the one often voiced was the difficulty in finding a trustworthy partner. As such, to help businesses expand and invest in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) was established.
What is the NFIA?
Founded more than 35 years ago, the NFIA exists today for a clear purpose – to help attract foreign companies looking for a European base in the Netherlands. Having an office in Singapore, the NFIA provides various services to local SMEs, easing the process of expansion into the Netherlands and addressing their concern of partnerships. Elaborating on its services is Executive Director, Mr Elmar Bouman, “A lot of the information the NFIA provides is about the best locations and office spaces, immigration permits for expat staff, taxes and customs and labour laws for instance.”
To help companies better understand the culture and geographical look of the Netherlands, the NFIA also provides location visits, making it easy to set up in the country. Similar to the SME Centres in Singapore, the consultation services provided by the NFIA are 100 per cent confidential and free of charge. In a small domestic market and an increasingly demanding business environment, it is vital for SMEs to explore new markets to sustain long-term growth and remain competitive. SMEs should consider tapping onto some of these services provided by agencies, thereby gaining invaluable insights into markets beyond the region and as a result, propelling their growth and expansion.