Come to Montpellier. The weather is wonderful (most of the time), we’ve accommodated a new international culture – though we’ve preserved our traditional heritage – and we’ll even throw in some tax relief to help you relocate. That’s the message being sent out by the Mediterranean tourist resort-cum-hi-tech city (100 miles south west of Marseille, […]
Come to Montpellier. The weather is wonderful (most of the time), we’ve accommodated a new international culture – though we’ve preserved our traditional heritage – and we’ll even throw in some tax relief to help you relocate. That’s the message being sent out by the Mediterranean tourist resort-cum-hi-tech city (100 miles south west of Marseille, or 220 miles north east of Barcelona – alternatively five hours by TGV train from Paris or under two hours by Dan Air direct from London Gatwick), which is making its mark on the Euro-scene by encouraging large international firms and small start-up companies alike to set up base among its palm trees, sweeping cedars and sun-kissed beaches. The recruitment is the job of the Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon Technopole – the city’s development agency – which aims to attract all sorts of high tech industry and scientific research organisations to its corner of southern France.
And, to its credit, Montpellier has over the last 20 years risen from 20th to 8th position in the league of French cities. The capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the area has a total population of 300,000, including 55,000 student residents. Over the last 10 years, some 20,000 new jobs have been created by the influx of industry to the Mediterranean haven, 8,000 of these in the information technology sector. So why have companies opted for the sunny climes of Montpellier? Well, the offer of tax relief is a pretty good incentive. But it was IBM Corp that provided the original vehicle for raising Montpellier’s profile in the business world: it planted its European mainframe factory there back in 1965. This plant, which started out with 400 employees from IBM France’s Paris microprocessor facility, now covers one million square feet and employs some 2,800 workers, half of which are local people. According to IBM France’s Jean Claude Joannides, IBM had been wanting to expand its Paris plant back in the 1960s, to accommodate its mainframe activities, but the French government at that time was encouraging businesses to decentralise away from Paris. Since Montpellier’s local government was offering two to three years’ tax relief, it was there that IBM decided to hang its hat, and it is there that the company today makes all its ES/9000 mainframes for the European market. Since the IBM coup, Montpellier has worked hard to gather in as many big and impressive names as possible – these now include Hewlett-packard Co, Texas Instruments Inc, Digital Equipment Corp and most recently the Anglo-French joint venture, GEC-Alsthom SA, and Dell Computer Corp. The efficiently-managed Technopole has a tightly-focussed strategy for recruiting new business to its shores, having created five dedicated business parks – the Informatique Pole for information technology activities; Antenna for communications-related business and research; Agropolis for agriculture and ecology; Euromedicine for health care; and Heliopolis for tourism. Patrick Geneste, the president of the Montpellier Technopole, is also the deputy mayor of Montpellier. Other titles he possesses include advisor to Montpellier district, representative on the association of Eurocities and director of the Montpellier College of Chemical Engineering. He told Computergram that another string to Montpellier’s bow is that it was in 1983 the first city in the world to be cabled entirely with fibre optics, acting as a beta test site for France Telecom. The construction of the local fibre optic network is now in its mid-term and is due to be completed sometime in 1994.
By Sue Norris
While the relatively young technology is still expensive, this has been no concern of the city, for the state-owned France Telecom has footed the entire installation bill – a whopping $100m. Playing host to this innovative and originally French means of communication – which forms the central nervous system of the Antenna business park – has attracted many researchers in the telecommunications field, such as IDATE, the Institute for the Development of Audio-visual and Telecom
munications Technology. At the same time that the fibre optic network was installed in the city, Montpellier’s own local television service was launched into action – the region now receives 18 national and international television channels. And the experiment continues: the whole of Montpellier’s urban area is being cabled and a broadcast television service is about to be introduced. The international recruitment operation is a carefully-tuned one. Montpellier’s Technopole has public relations companies working on its behalf in target countries, such as Peter Prowse Associates in Leatherhead, Surrey in the UK. When companies decide upon Montpellier, swung no doubt by the city’s offers to help in finding accommodation for employees’ families and schools for their children, they are offered a 23-month stay in a rented office in a development centre on one of the parks, a vital time for small start-up companies needing a chance to get off the ground. At the end of their allotted time, the tenants must take a place on the appropriate business park, or vacate altogether. Space is not a problem in Montpellier. There is plenty of land behind IBM’s site for example, and plenty of fresh soil beyond.
Actually, the land surrounding IBM is something of a sore point with the company: it was reportedly none to happy to learn that Dell Computer had bought the patch of ground in front of its mainframe plant, and is currently steamrolling it in preparation for the foundations of its European telemarketing centre. Dell will use the centre, when it is ready in October, as part of its plan to build business in France, Spain and Italy. The facility will create some 200 new jobs. The Technopole is very proud that Montpellier won Dell’s business against competition from Belgium and the UK; the front page of the local trade newspaper last week bore the stars and stripes of America, underlined with the touching words Merci a Dell Computer – d’avoir choisi Montpellier. Other actions taken by the Technopole to introduce potential new recruits to the delights of the Mediterranean hotspot are its international conferences and exhibitions, like the Virtual Reality conference that was staged at the city’s Corum centre at the end of last month. In this case, small, innovative research organisations were invited to display their wares or speak at the show, whereafter they were wined and dined and generally bedazzled by the attractions that the region had to offer. UK virtual reality research pioneer Division Ltd was one company that was more than drawn by Montpellier’s prospects, but the small Bristol-based outfit had to admit that it would be a while before it would be in a financial position to consider such an expansion, however tempting the offer.