“I became the director during the period of economic crisis and it was a hard time to start,” recalls Freerk Faber, director of WTC Twente. Though Faber took the reins in 2009 during the economic downturn, under his careful direction, WTC Twente has developed tremendously over the past six years offering a range of trade services for regional and international investors.
Faber says that WTC Twente has a fixed staff of four people while there are two staff as well as interns and volunteers working at the Expat Center of Twente. “We are a small team though there is a lot to do. A challenging part of my work is to bring together companies from different backgrounds to connect worldwide,” he says.
Developing an investment community
WTC Twente took years to develop; Faber’s extensive experience in having worked in various economic positions such as in the Economic Affairs and Planning in the municipality of Hengelo and economic change projects in Hengelo, Middelburg and Coevorden has definitely helped in the development phase of WTC Twente.
“In 2005, the Economic Affairs (department) of the city of Hengelo researched what we could do and what services we could offer. We did the market and country analysis bit by bit and since it was a developing phase it was interesting to make something out of nothing,” states Faber.
He says that currently one can see the growth – there were only 60-70 companies in the Business Club in 2009 and now, the number has grown to more than 150.
Investors in the region come from different industries; Faber says that WTC Twente focuses on three (investor) sectors such as industry, trade and transport & logistics. He adds that WTC Twente’s investors include energy (oil and gas) and renewable energy (fossil and non-fossil) industries.
“We went to Turkey and we did a matchmaking’ (between companies) and presented ourselves as the energy sector of East Netherlands. We try to work together in the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel and sometimes we go with some German companies,” he says.
The WTC Twente also has investors from the agricultural sector – the AGRI Business Group is made up of companies that make machines for the agriculture sector.
Making a permanent mark
There are several WTCs in the Netherlands such as in The Hague, Amsterdam and Eindhoven but Faber says that WTC Twente is more focused on trade services than just real estate within the WTC building. This is due to the fact that WTC Twente does not have its own building but Faber and his team are working towards to getting a permanent building to operate from.
“The other WTCs are mostly known for their real estate and as we do not have our own building, we have been working for many years towards it. We are now only a tenant in the building. In the coming year, hopefully, we can make a step towards offering tenant services,” he says.
Faber says that his organisation has a premise in mind, a former school, for the WTC Twente building; it is owned partly by the city of Hengelo and it is close to the headquarters of Siemens in East Netherlands and near the central station of Twente. “It is important that it can be easily reached and people can drop by,” he says.
Faber states that though WTC Twente does not have its own premise, the organisation is interested in companies to locate in the current WTC. He says some are international companies from India, Germany and Spain and they are interested in flexible office space. Also, if the companies have a project team, they want a room for meetings, desk and Wi-Fi.
“We are not there yet but we are starting small scale by offering flexible office space, meeting rooms and translation service. By the end of the year or next year, we are looking forward to people pointing out the WTC location,” says Faber.
He says foreign organisations want to gain a foothold in the Netherlands and as WTC Twente is close to Germany, it can bring them in contact with German companies. Faber adds that his organisation is also attractive to Dutch companies interested in the foreign market such as for a sales office or those looking for companies that are supporting other organisations doing international business.
He adds that currently, companies and investors that WTC Twente is in contact with are Dutch. “Once we are a step further, it will be more interesting for foreign companies looking at real estate. We are happy to welcome those wanting to locate to WTC from abroad.”
A gamut of services
WTC Twente offers a wide range of services for local companies and foreign investors including trade information, trade education, group trade missions, Business Club and expat services through its Expat Center.
Faber says that WTC Twente recently started an International Speaking Hour for free every Friday morning for companies with questions about doing business abroad. He says his organisation is working with various trade and fiscal partners such as Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, Development Agency of East Netherlands, a notary and an accountant specialising in SMEs.
“People can make an appointment and ask trade related or fiscal questions so we get the right partner to help them find their way, making it easy to find answers to their questions,” he explains. The service is offered to members of the Business Club but also non-members.
Since the start of the International Speaking Hour, local and international companies have approached WTC Twente about international trade. “We get questions from abroad and they are looking for partners not only in the Netherlands but also in Europe. We help contact potential Dutch partners and also the Chamber of Commerce through the Enterprise Europe Network. In one hour, we are able to go through the questions and give them the direct feedback,” states Faber.
The Expat Center is also a notable feature in WTC Twente; it serves as a central point for expats living and working in the Twente region. “We make it easy; we have one point where we can support knowledge workers who are highly educated and their families with IND, verblijfspassen (resident permits) and their BSN number.” He adds that both small and large organisations make use of the Expat Center’s extra services such as finding a house for their employees.
There is a great road ahead for WTC Twente and Faber says that he would like the organisation to be at the top of minds of people when it comes to international business. “We have a long way to go; we have a complete service range and hopefully tenant services, soon. The challenge for us in the coming years is to take the position at the top of the mind of international businesses, develop the brand (WTC Twente) and that is what we are working on right now,” he says.
For more information about WTC Twente, please visit: http://www.wtctwente.eu/en
By: Priya de Langen