ASML Brabant, photo Bart van Overbeeke for Brabant Brand Box.

Brabant: ‘the smartest region in the world’

The economy in Brabant continues to grow. The secret of its success? Innovation and collaboration. With billion-dollar corporations like Philips and ASML, and countless innovative start-ups, the economy in Brabant has grown faster than other regions in the Netherlands for the past five years. 

Businesses and the (experience) economy

The people of Brabant are adventurous, not afraid to get their hands dirty and live life to the full. They welcome the extraordinary, gladly share their knowledge and expertise and add value in many different fields, both within and outside the region. You see their brands and products everywhere.

Brabant is booming. Billion-dollar corporations like Philips, ASML and VDL are based in southeast Brabant. Brainport Eindhoven is a world-class high tech region. A breeding ground for innovation. Companies, regional government, education and knowledge institutes all collaborate to develop tomorrow’s products.

In 2015, companies in this region – previously described by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) as the ‘smartest region in the world’ – invested more than €1.7 billion in Research & Development. Brainport's innovative strength is also demonstrated by the number of patent applications: more than half of the total number of applications in the Netherlands. Philips applies for more patents than any other Dutch company.

Philips at the High Tech Campus, Eindhoven, photo Bart van Overbeeke
Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Collaboration and innovation characterise Brabant’s business community

According to Peter Struik, the chairman of VNO-NCW Brabant Zeeland, Brabant’s largest business network, manufacturing businesses are the prime mover behind Brabant's booming economy. In 2016, Brabant was responsible for 27.3% of the total added value generated by Dutch industry. Furthermore, small companies often benefit from the success of their larger counterparts.

Businesses in Brabant are also responsible for a significant share of Dutch exports. According to Struik, innovation and collaboration are the most important characteristics of Brabant’s business community: “In Brabant, we have an informal way of doing business. The lines are short and we know how to contact each other quickly. And when something has to be done, we join forces and tackle it together.”

Struik emphasises that Brabant invented the Triple Helix. “A close collaboration between regional government, education and the business community opens up many more opportunities and is an important driver behind technical innovation.”

AgriFood Capital and Biobased Delta

When it comes to employment and exports, agrifood is the largest economic sector after high tech in Brabant. Here too, the focus lies on collaboration, sharing knowledge and innovation. In 2020, the province aims to be one of the most innovative, sustainable and smartest agrifood regions in Europe, with northeast Brabant as its AgriFood Capital. This traditionally strong farming area is now focusing strongly on innovation in the field of food and health.

West Brabant also has a strong agrifood sector. And a strong chemicals sector, with companies such as SABIC. Within the Bio-based Delta in the southwest of the Netherlands, these two sectors collaborate with regional government and education on developing new techniques for converting agricultural waste flows into biomass that can subsequently be used for a wide variety of non-food applications. For example at the Green Chemistry Campus in Bergen op Zoom.

Many family businesses in Brabant

Brabant is home to many family businesses, more than 80,000 in fact. The best known are supermarket chain Jumbo, vehicle manufacturer VDL, caterer Hutten and beer brewer Bavaria. The latter was voted the best family company in the world in 2015.

“In comparison to other businesses, family-run companies focus more on the long term”, says Peter Struik. “They want to pass on their life’s work to the next generation. The entrepreneurs and employees know each other personally and the level of social involvement is generally high. These companies contribute to social cohesion through local initiatives; e.g. by sponsoring local community centres, etc. A fine tradition.”

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