In 2022, foreign companies invested EUR 5,26 billion in Flanders: an all-time record. This has been announced by Flanders’ Minister-President Jan Jambon just prior to his departure to the World Economic Forum in Davos based on results from Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), the government agency responsible for attracting and guiding foreign investors to Flanders. There was an inflow of 278 new investment projects, generating a record number of 6,540 additional jobs in Flanders.
Flanders attracts foreign direct investments in strategic sectors. In this regard, various pharmaceutical and chemical projects contribute to the new record investment amount (see also investments 1 and 2 below). This is slightly higher than the previous record of EUR 5.20 billion from 2019, just before the COVID pandemic.
Foreign investments linked to climate tech and the energy transition are on the rise in Flanders (see also investments 3 and 4 below). In 2022, they accounted for an investment amount of EUR 1.64 billion, 960 additional jobs and 23 projects.
Innovation remains Flanders’ international trademark. The share of foreign investment in R&D activities is historically high, accounting for 1 in 5 projects and 1 in 4 extra jobs.
Companies from the US and neighboring countries are top investors
The ranking of top investors includes many familiar faces. Companies from the US strengthen their traditional leading position while Flanders’ neighbors reaffirm their reputation as loyal investors. The number of projects from the UK in 2022 did more than half from a year earlier.
Companies from Japan and China take position 6 and 7 in the ranking. The top 10 is completed by companies from Sweden, Canada and newcomer Norway (in a shared ninth place) and Switzerland.
Top 10 foreign investors in Flanders
Joy Donné (CEO Flanders Investment & Trade): “Internationally, Flanders Investment & Trade sells the powerful ‘brand’ that is Flanders, with its high economic density, strong logistics and unique synergies. A region driven by innovative companies, ports, research institutions and a high-performance government with tailored services. Rather than just promoting the assets of a region, FIT – together with its partners – convinces foreign investors of the strengths of an ecosystem with an attractive market, knowhow, infrastructure, value chains and talent, and this in very competitive sectors. FIT connects the lines.”
American projects gain ground, Asian investors expand
Most foreign investments in Flanders – about 6 in 10 – come from European companies. However, there’s a striking revival of investments from the category Asia, Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. After a decline in 2020, the number of projects from these parts of the world is rising by almost a quarter. Furthermore, companies from the Americas account for over 1 in 4 foreign investments in Flanders.
Flanders' FDI sources
60,07% (167 projects)
64,07% (189 projects)
25,18% (70 projects)
24,75% (73 projects)
Asia, Pacific, Middle East, Africa
14,75% (41 projects)
11,19% (33 projects)
1 in 4 jobs from foreign investment is linked to innovation
Flanders’ innovation landscape is a major asset that convinces foreign companies to invest in the region. The share of investments in R&D activities is unprecedentedly high: accounting for almost 1 in 5 projects in 2022. The resulting extra employment (1,599 jobs) was also historically high. Almost 1 in 4 new jobs resulting from FDI in Flanders is linked to innovation.
Other important economic activities for which foreign companies choose Flanders are sales & marketing, logistics and manufacturing.
Jan Jambon (Flanders’ Minister-President): “Flanders is known as a promising investment location for international and innovative companies. This is evident from the record FDI figures. 1 in 5 foreign investments in Flanders has to do with R&D, creating numerous innovative jobs as well. The fact that Flanders is a leader in terms of R&D expenditure is bearing fruit: 3.6% of GDP goes to innovation, putting our region at the top in Europe.”
Pharma, chemistry and energy transition drive investment records
Flanders attracts a lot of foreign investments in strategic areas, mainly linked to production and R&D activities. In this regard, several pharmaceutical and chemical projects are driving the new investment record. Investments linked to climate tech and the energy transition are also on the rise, accounting for EUR 1.64 billion, 960 new jobs and 23 projects in 2022.
FDI in Flanders by economic activity
Sales & Marketing
86 projects (30,94%)
84 projects (28,47%)
67 projects (24,10%)
59 projects (20,00%)
58 projects (20,86%)
74 projects (25,08%)
51 projects (18,35%)
59 projects (20,00%)
7 projects (2,52%)
6 projects (2,03%)
9 projects (3,24%)
11 projects (4,41%)
US companies and manufacturing push job creation to record level
In 2022, foreign investments generated a record number of 6,540 new direct jobs in Flanders, which is 4.69% higher than the 2021 record (6,233 new jobs). The additional employment is strongest among American investors (2,870 jobs), who, for the first time in five years, are creating more jobs than European projects. Also notable is the increase in the share of manufacturing jobs, representing 1 in 3 jobs announced.
Expansions are on the rise (and create a lot of employment)
More than half of foreign direct investments in Flanders last year were greenfield projects. Mergers and acquisitions experienced a decline after the sharp rise a year earlier. The share of expansion projects climbed to 1 in 5. More than 6 in 10 jobs (65%) from foreign investment came from expansions.
FDI in Flanders by type of investment
Job creation 2022
Job creation 2021
Remarkable investments from the past year
Project 1: Pfizer makes a billion-euro investment in expanding its Puurs site
In 2022, American pharma giant Pfizer announced a mega-investment in Flanders. EUR 1.2 billion is being channeled into its Puurs site to increase production capacity, add cold storage capabilities and expand packaging processes.
“Our site in Puurs has been playing a crucial role in Pfizer’s global network for many years,” says Luc Van Steenwinkel, managing director of Pfizer Puurs. “This investment provides a large-scale platform for the development of new medicines and vaccines. At the same time, this is a recognition of the groundbreaking work we are doing at Pfizer Puurs to impact the lives of patients around the world.”
Project 2: Sanofi’s site in Geel to be equipped with a third high-tech production line
In the fall of 2022, French biopharma firm Sanofi began the construction of a new production line in Geel, Flanders. An investment of EUR 120 million to produce an innovative medicine that will improve the quality of life of hemophilia patients worldwide.
“The expertise of our people and our excellent reputation in complex biotech production processes have once again ensured that major investments are coming to Flanders,” says Julien Moindrot, director of Sanofi Geel.
Project 3: Plug builds Europe’s second-largest hydrogen plant in Antwerp
At the NextGen District in the Antwerp port area, Plug is building a green hydrogen production plant with a capacity of 100 megawatts. The American company announced this in June 2022. “Green hydrogen is crucial in the energy transition,” confirms Plug CEO Andy Marsh. “With the new plant, we want to help the Port of Antwerp-Bruges to become a European hydrogen hub and deliver naturally generated, carbon-free hydrogen to local markets.”
Project 4: ZF Wind Power innovates for the wind industry in Lommel
In September 2022, ZF Wind Power – part of the German ZF Group – announced the construction of an advanced Test & Prototype Center for the wind industry in Flanders. “With this test center, we can expand our offering from gearboxes to complete driveline systems for wind turbines to meet the growing demand for wind energy solutions,” says Felix Henseler, CEO of ZF Wind Power. “In addition, our investment in Flanders strengthens the industrial fabric of Europe within a strategic sector.”