The Hague – A Beacon for International Collaboration and Business
Holland’s seat of government is a microcosm of Dutch society
Laurens Kok, Head of Foreign Investments at The Hague Business Agency, shares his insights
Laurens Kok, Head of Foreign Investments at The Hague Business Agency (THBA), has seen significant changes in the approach to Foreign Direct Investments in the city over the last ten years. It’s all part of a coordinated approach to finding perfect matches with companies that not only boost the regional and national economy through the creation of employment, but specifically targeting companies that benefit from the unique set of circumstances that The Hague, as a business location, has to offer.
By selective targeting and matchmaking, the existing business ecosystem becomes enriched, as Laurens puts it: “It’s very much a case of 1+1=3. In the past, you could act as a generalist and inform prospects about the overall appeal of your location, start a conversation with a company and create an interaction with a view to possibly bringing them over. Nowadays, however, you need to dive into the activities of the company and the sector they operate in and their ambitions, to be able to have a relevant discussion as to what locating in the Netherlands, or specifically The Hague, could mean for the growth of the company.”
Although born in nearby Delft, Laurens was educated in The Hague, and for ten years now the city has been his home. He explains his motivation for doing the work he does: “It really contributes something to the city I live in in terms of growth and employment. It connects to the growth strategies for specific sectors, and it’s very actual – so I can immediately see opportunities for the city related to news I might see on CNN, for example.
“It’s political and business, it’s public and private,” Laurens says. “In The Hague, there are many different people from many different cultures, and it’s nice to be able to interact with them, and that reflects the international background of the clients I work with.”
“The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency is the overarching organization that supports The Hague Business Agency as part of its Invest in Holland network, and they understand the specific set of circumstances that our city has to offer companies entering the country.”
Each city has a unique fingerprint – a concentration of industries, sectors, connectivity or other circumstances that make it attractive to a company. By mapping these parameters carefully, the NFIA and THBA can, with pinpoint accuracy, match a business to a location that will provide the right environment for them in which to thrive. THBA provides tailor-made, free and confidential services ranging from organizing fact-finding trips and providing market overviews, to all aspects of setting up operations in the city.
However, as Laurens points out, it’s not about competing with other Dutch cities: “Focusing on your own strengths distinguishes you from another location and being able to distinguish your proposition automatically means that you are not competing. Based on the deeper knowledge of the characteristics of an ecosystem or a sector, you can find more ways of collaborating with another city.”
What Laurens is describing resonates deeply with the Dutch way of doing business – which is very much about collaboration and cooperation. It’s all part of the Dutch DNA and characteristic of a society that has, for centuries, been able to carry out projects on a massive scale – such as the reclamation of land, management of water and even creation of new land to enable business growth (Maasvlakte II).
The majority of the companies locating in the city come from the United States and East Asia, especially China. Laurens explains: “Chinese companies are very accustomed to having to deal closely with government bodies and see governmental interaction as something positive, rather than negative. In terms of companies that have located here, I would say that one of our most successful acquisitions was port terminal operator APM Terminals part of the Maersk conglomerate, who chose to set up their global headquarters here and invested a lot in the city. We also welcomed another Danish firm, Orsted – the biggest offshore wind operator/initiator in the world. We are a city with a heritage in conventional energy, such as oil and gas, and are now making a transition to renewable energy. So, we are very happy with Shell’s recent announcement to locate the fast-growing global headquarters of their new energy division in The Hague.”
Where government and business meet
The fact that the Dutch government is centered in The Hague is a key location factor as many companies and organizations desire to be close to the decision-making base. For companies involved in the Tech & Connectivity sector, for example, the entire lifecycle of their operations necessitates close relations with government, from permitting to building 5G infrastructure or the licensing of new data exchange concepts, for example. The government is very much a development partner, and consequently, close cooperation is essential.
City of peace and justice
However, it is not only the presence of government bodies in The Hague that attracts businesses. There are also many international and global organizations based in the Hague, as Laurens explains:
“Ever since the first International Peace Conference was held in The Hague in 1899, the city has been a beacon for peace and justice and is today home to more than 200 international organizations and knowledge institutions. This includes bodies such as Europol, Eurojust and UN-related bodies such as The International Criminal Court, the OPCW (Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons) and these organizations are looking closely at the manner in which they operate. They are increasingly looking at technology to enhance their work. Cybersecurity is a key issue for many of these organizations, and we are very proud to have The Hague Security Delta (HSD)as a campus within our city.”
The Hague is not just the International City of Peace and Justice, but also home to some of the most impactful international organizations in the world and a hub of expertise in industries such as law, finance, cyber security, renewable energy and IT and technology. The Hague is the world’s second UN city that has attracted numerous institutions and NGOs. The next step is to ensure that a dynamic and thriving business environment is developed around this. In a city where over 200 international organizations, knowledge institutions, start-ups and NGOs are working towards a better, safer and more just world, the focus here is on social responsibility and impact. The Hague also has a growing reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship, supported by the ethos “doing good and doing business”: the belief that economic success has to go hand in hand with solutions for a better world.
“What we also observe, is a trend or tendency among millennial adults who are now entrepreneurs themselves, or valuable employees within companies to seek a career not only for their own betterment, but they also seek a way to contribute to society,” Laurens says. “This is commonly referred to as the Purpose Economy, and this is something we at THBA try to enhance and facilitate in The Hague, via the Impact City Program. We achieve this by creating facilities and opportunities for startups that focus not only on revenue but also on societal impact and return. These new companies, together with the older established businesses that have been here for decades, also integrate many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and incorporate them into their future business models.”
Many of these larger, established companies find such transformations challenging and benefit from external parties, disruptive technologies, startups, scale-ups, networks and platforms to help them transform their business models in alignment with the SDGs.
“Our creation of this fertile innovative environment enables these companies to be able to scout for new (local) talent and to discover potential new business models,” explains Laurens, “and this is very much in harmony with the DNA of the city – the city without walls – the city of peace and justice.”
Safe and secure
In the realm of cybersecurity, another key focus area for the city, the NATO Communications & Information Agency recently opened its expanded office, so there are now more than 400 NATO cybersecurity experts in the city.
Laurens explains: “By helping other companies located here to connect to the cybersecurity platform HSD, they can gain knowledge that can help them protect their businesses. We combine all these purpose- and impact-driven aspects and investment in facilities here with an excellent working and living environment. For example, we have a high number of international schools, and they don’t have waiting lists. The city itself has an excellent coastline location with a beautiful sandy beach. It’s also very green and a very safe place to live, especially for families. For me, the thing I love most about being here is the beach. I run on the beach and swim in both summer and winter, and my son is learning to surf. He’s eight years old and he can safely cycle to the beach on his own with his board. Biking is perfect here, and I hardly use my car.”
In a certain sense, The Hague could be described as a microcosm of Dutch society – an attractive, welcoming and safe place where tolerance, inclusion, peace and harmony find a natural home.
Want to know more about the business opportunities The Hague and The Netherlands can provide? Contact Laurens Kok at The Hague Business Agency at +31 6 8321 0172 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the conversation regarding your international ambitions.
23 September 2019