City Focus: Brussels

- Leadership - Mar 09, 2020

Business Chief takes a look at the world’s second most cosmopolitan city, ‘The Capital of Europe’, Brussels

Belgium’s capital Brussels is the largest municipality and the historical centre of the Brussels-Capital region. This is a city that has earned the title “The Capital of Europe'' or “The Heart of Europe” for its rich melting pot of industries and strong connectivity to the rest of the continent. It signifies international collaboration, dating back to The Treaty of Brussels, the founding pact of the Western Union after World War Two in 1948. 

Today, the city serves as The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) headquarters and is the unofficial capital of the European Union; the latter factor has led to the creation of over 40,000 jobs. With a population of just over 2 million as of 2019, Brussels attracts both tourism and immigration and this number is predicted to grow to 2.2 million by 2035. The city has two legal languages: French and Dutch. Spanning across a total area of 12.59 square miles, the capital has a population density of 5,475 residents per square kilometer, with approxmiately 50,000 registered non-Belgians. 

Brussels houses just a 10th of the population of Belgium but contributes one fifth of the national GDP, with its 550,000 jobs accounting for 17.7% of Belgium's employment. 2,000 foreign companies have offices in Brussels, including a number of offices of multinationals such as General Electric, IBM, Toyota, Microsoft, Monsanto, Pfizer and Levi Strauss & Co. Office rental costs are lower than that of other European business centres at around €25 (US$27) per square foot, while personal accomodation for central locations is capped at €1300 ($1,400) per month. In recent years, the city has flourished as an emerging finance and technology hub, while building on its quintessential confectionary and brewing industries. 

Finance

Brussel’s Belgian Financial Sector Federation – Febelfin – is a widely diversified financial sector and also considered a banking capital since the creation of Société Générale de Belgique in 1822. Brussels is also  home to a number of other financial service providers such as credit institutions, asset managers brokerage firms, leasing companies, and clearing and settlement companies. It has been one of many cities to benefit from the surge of fintech in recent years and has become a location for a number of accelerator programmes and incubators, including B-Hive, Start-it (KBC), Fintech Village (ING) and Co-Station (BNP Paribas Fortis). A number of projects have also been launched by Horizon2020; the EU’s US$80bn flagship Science and Technology programme. Today there are currently 92 banks established in Brussels, including other major names such as Euronext, Euroclear and Swift

Technology 

According to why.brussels, the city often ranks in the top two best cities in Europe for infrastructure, internet connectivity and digital public services. To build upon this success, the federal government has pledged to digitally accelerate 1,000 new startups and provide over 50,000 new tech jobs by 2020. 30% of IT jobs in Belgium are held in Brussels and 30% are for startups. The city is a hub for both large tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter, as well as a budding startup sector. 

One of the major startups to watch last year was collaborative childcare app,  Bsit, which connects parents with well-recommended babysitters. It has recently been nominated by TNW & Adyen as one of Belgium's top 5 tech companies. It has also recently launched Bsit Care, which allows employees to access the app via an employer in order to find carers nearby. 

Brussel’s younger demographic is also taking advantage of the city’s opportunities to innovate. MicroFlavours is a student startup that has garnered notable success via its concept of ‘harvesting on demand’ to provide sustainable urban farming in the centre of the city. It was named by L'Echo as one of the most innovative startups of the year. 

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Local Industry 

Brussels is also something of a stronghold in the brewing and chocolate industry, as it produces over 450 varieties of beer and over 172,000 tonnes of chocolate annually produced. 

There are a vast number of breweries and one of the most popular, according to Trip advisor, is Cantillon Brewery which has produced Lambic, Gueuze and Kriek since 1900. Should Lambic not be your choice beer, Brussels Beer Project, Brasserie No Science and Poechenellekelder are also located close to the city center. 

It is best known for its chocolate brands Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. Godiva was originally founded in 1926 in Brussels and is now one of the most profitable confectionery companies to produce chocolate, with over 600 stores in the US. Though it has changed owners a number of times and is currently owned by Turkish Yıldız Holding, one of its two factories remains in Brussels, with the other residing in Reading, Pennsylvania, US. 

As Brussels continues to draw businesses and tourists alike to the historic city, it will undoubtedly continue to uphold its title as the “Heart of Europe” as it continues to connect the continent as a diplomatic center for collaboration.

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