From Site Selection magazine, July 2001

The Top European Sites for Corporate Site-Seekers
An independent expert on global economic development resources names the best economic development
Web sites in Europe.


n this 21st century world of virtual reality, virtual learning, virtual tourism -- virtual everything, it's entirely logical that site selection should have been transformed into a virtual activity. The hard-pressed corporate executive seeking new international facilities in far-flung overseas destinations need surely look no further than a mouse button and modem.
        Decisions that formerly involved protracted waits for mail packages stuffed with development agency brochures and videos have been facilitated by the emergence of the all-embracing information channel that is the Internet.
        But just how effective are the Web sites presented by the various regions of Europe at wooing would-be investors? How intelligently are these agencies using the new opportunities presented by this medium to convey their message?
        The first point to emphasize is the sheer scope and scale of the task confronting the virtual site seeker. The Oxford Intelligence database contains details of well over 1,500 development agencies in Europe alone, of which virtually 100 percent operate a Web site of some kind, if only a rudimentary one. And just as the European continent is made up of a cosmopolitan potpourri of cultures, languages and races, the European agency Web sites present the potential investor with a bewildering variety of content, style and information.
        Even a perfunctory examination of key sites reveals that many development agencies still have much to learn from their corporate cousins regarding presentation and clarity of content. Indeed, the user-friendly quotient on many of the sites we examined is often woefully low. One recurring theme is the issue of the site attempting to be "all things to all people" -- and failing on virtually every front.
        On sites where tourism jostles for prime place with inward investment, the two do not sit happily together. In these cases, the inward investment message is invariably tucked away and difficult to find. The best sites are obviously those that convey a simple, unequivocal message on a unified theme and provide the kind of practical, meaningful information that will enable the investor to move their plans forward.
        Another failing of many of the sites surveyed is their tendency towards "navel gazing." One has the feeling that these sites have lost sight of their true target audience and are thinking more of pleasing their political paymasters. This is particularly true of a few of the English regional development agency sites, which -- immured in politico-speak -- focus heavily on internal strategy issues, white papers and board initiatives, resulting in a complete turn-off for the corporate investor.
        Having said all this, there is a wealth of information on every region of Europe awaiting the virtual site seeker, often conveyed in a striking and compelling manner by some enlightening and illuminative sites. We had a difficult task in honing the hundreds of European development agency sites down to around 50, from which we have selected our top 15 sites. (The criteria on which they were selected are listed at the end of this article.) In no particular ranking order, following are our picks of the top European agency Web sites, broken down into national, regional and city agencies.

National Agencies

Not surprisingly, this category delivers the most impressive sites due to the more significant resources of the national development agencies. Bigger budgets don't necessarily equal better sites however, and it is interesting to note that many of the regional development agency sites actually score higher in terms of innovation and style.

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Quite simply, this site provides a model that other development agencies would do well to adopt. It is fast-loading, easy to navigate, with a simple key word-search function and a well-laid out site map. A wealth of in-depth and comprehensive data is presented in a clear and efficient manner. Features include a range of fact sheets and
        FAQs on the Czech Republic, covering such issues as education, the labor market, the tax system, and so forth. The site provides a wealth of manufacturing and service sector information, soon to be joined by profiles of the key regions of the country. Added-value features include an A-Z database of over 900 Czech suppliers, a list of property sites, up-to-date and constantly-changing news, and the fact that, in addition to English and Czech, the site is also available in German and Japanese.

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Industrial Development Agency of Ireland

Here is a clear and colorful site, making compelling use of icons and graphics to present a huge range of relevant information in an accessible manner. Also available in German and Japanese, the site uses both top and sidebars to facilitate navigation around a logical and well-ordered set of data. The depth of the content is superb, featuring extremely detailed demographic and statistical information, broken down by region, together with a broad range of industry-sector information, supplemented by company testimonials, lists of indigenous companies and pdf versions of sector brochures. This is one site that never loses sight of the end user, and the corporate investor's knowledge requirements are clearly the top of its agenda.

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Invest in Sweden

This is a business-like and well-organised site, which adopts a logical and user-friendly approach to present the key facts and figures about the country. Navigation around the well-ordered site is excellent, facilitated by excellent search functions, and the various pages flow seamlessly to present a compelling case for investment. News is up-to-date and is also categorized and linked into the various industry sectors. Nice touches include the "Recommend Invest in Sweden" feature, which enables the user to send an email recommending ISA to a friend or colleague, and a feedback form to evaluate user response. In addition to English and Swedish, key elements of the site are also available in French, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

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Invest UK

This site's main function is to act as a kind of clearing-house to point potential investors in the UK to the various regions of the country, a task it performs in an efficient, if somewhat understated, manner. It is sub-divided into three areas: Student, Investing and Media, and is logically organized within these topics, featuring a clear site map and keyword search facility. It includes brief information on no fewer than 16 industry sectors and the 12 UK regions, with links into the appropriate Web sites. The location of all Invest UK offices worldwide is clearly displayed, using a map device, but, surprisingly, this site is available only in English. Invest UK scored highly on speed of response, replying to our email within two hours in a helpful manner.

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Invest in Finland

Another business-like and efficient Scandinavian site, this one features a wealth of facts and statistics about the Finnish economy and its competitiveness as an investment location. The left-hand tool bar is used to good effect to provide related information on the subject area. Although some may find the heavy use of pdf files frustrating, it enables the site to convey an impressive depth of information on a broad range of topics, ranging from industry sector data to fact sheets on "Establishing a Business in Finland". There are also a number of useful hyperlinks into lists of recruitment consultants, law firms, and other resources. Some information is available in German and Finnish, but these are the only languages featured.

Cllick here to visit

Locate in Scotland

Although perhaps not the most dynamic of sites, the strengths of the Locate in Scotland offering include its superbly detailed contact information and its consistently detailed, helpful follow-through to email inquiries. Another interesting feature is its "Don't take our word for it" section, which offers dozens of testimonials from companies that have located facilities in Scotland. The industry sector information is extremely comprehensive, conveyed via a combination of online brochures in pdf format and fact files, but tends to be verbose at times.

Regional Agencies

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Cote d'Azur, France

A bold, bright, breezy site which uses its fresh and idiosyncratic design to convey the essence of this region's enticing location offering. Although the layout can initially appear bewildering, a quick glance at the site map reveals that all the essential information -- and more -- is available. The site splits information by sectors so that visitors can view economic data, company data, news, events, research institutions and associations relevant to their business interests. For example, there is a Who's Who per sector with company descriptions and links to their sites. It also includes quotes of the week and testimonials. As well as sector information, the site also sorts its investors by type of facility -- training centers, technical centers, R&D facilities and others, which is an interesting approach. This interactive and inclusive site is available in French, English and Japanese, and contact is facilitated via an email hyperlink on each page.

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East Sweden Development Agency

In keeping with the size of this small agency, the East Sweden Web site has a correspondingly modest and unassuming appearance. However, closer examination reveals that solid and valuable information is available in this easily navigable site. As well as information on living and working in the region and the educational and communications infrastructure, there is also added-value data on such topics as office rents in the main cities and a searchable Business Partner database of companies located in the region.
        The "print page" function featured thoughout the site may be a boon to researchers comparing a number of regions in their search for a location. The response to our exploratory email was swift, detailed and welcoming.

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Agence d'Etudes et de Promotion de l'Isere (AEPI) -- Grenoble, France

This site offers clarity of presentation and good functionality, although our researcher felt that some of the excellent data underlying the site could be displayed more prominently. This site scores highly on content, with well-presented and attractive data on industry sectors, key investors, company directories and lists of local start-ups. There is an attractive use of photos and maps throughout to emphasize sections such as Quality of Life and Infrastructure. One weakness is the navigation -- the tendency to feel stranded in a particular section could be alleviated by better use of navigation bars. However, a contact button is available on each page, linking to a section packed with information and access data.

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Advantage West Midlands -- West Midlands, UK

This agency scored highly on ease of contact and speed of response. The site features a comprehensive list of addresses and contact information for all office locations worldwide, and our email was answered within two hours. However, like many of the UK regional development agency sites, it occasionally seems to lose sight of the end user and includes too much irrelevant strategic information regarding strategic and policy issues. More practical information relating to various industry sectors would be welcome -- the only sector covered in any depth is software. Advantage West Midlands combines with its sister agency, East Midlands Development, to operate a Web site aimed at North American investors (, but this is not mentioned on the home site.

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Alsace Development Agency -- France

This is a clear, concise and user-friendly site, available in English, French and German, featuring an impressive list of links to related organizations. It is packed with data for business users, but it also includes information on cultural aspects of life in the region. There are some ambitious interactive elements, such as the Trade Opportunities area of inquiries for distributor/agent/partnerships from U.S. and Alsatian companies and the Who's Who of Companies in Alsace. The only question is how up-to-date and comprehensive this data actually is. The news area states that information is only featured if posted within the past 30 days, but some of the items appeared to be old, casting a doubt of the age of other data on the site.

City Agencies

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Copenhagen Capacity -- Copenhagen, Denmark

Here is yet another stylish and well-organised Scandinavian site, combining optimum content in an elegant yet workmanlike format. Imaginative use is made of video and audio presentations to convey information about the agency and its offering. While the site contains a wealth of practical data, the "Setting Up in Copenhagen" section is particularly interesting. It offers detailed and pragmatic coverage of such topics as child care, education, property, taxation, work permits and sources of venture capital, together with lists of useful contact details for accountants, legal firms, relocation companies, recruitment agents and international schools. The site also offers a fascinating set of interactive comparison searches, enabling the user to compare Denmark with a range of other destinations, based on criteria such as quality of life, corporate tax rates and other factors.

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London First -- London, U.K.

This site is broken down into four main areas -- Why London? Why London First? News and Publications -- and makes good use of top and side tool bars to navigate between the topics, although it could definitely benefit from the inclusion of a site map. The Why London? and Why London First? areas contain a wealth of content and data on the city's offerings, but the industry sector information, consisting of online information brochures in pdf format, is somewhat tucked away within the Economy section. Although the dynamic elements of the site are available in English only, static pdf files on the benefits of investing in the city are available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese. One fun touch is the "100 Facts about London" feature that runs across the bottom of each page, containing quirky and little-known statistics about business in the capital.

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Bremen Business International -- Bremen, Germany

Visitors who penetrate beyond this site's slightly unprepossessing home page will discover a wealth of information on foreign direct investment in the city of Bremen, including details of available sites and property. Contacting the agency couldn't be easier, via a comprehensive listing of contact names, emails, addresses and phone numbers for all of the agency's 17 offices worldwide. Industry sector information is limited to Food and Drink and Customer Communications Centers, an area that could definitely be improved. However, there is an interesting comparison of both housing costs and real estate prices in the different cities of Germany.

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MIDAS -- Manchester, U.K.

Despite a somewhat off-putting design and layout, which involves a great deal of scrolling down the pages, this site conveys a considerable amount of useful data. The Manchester Profile section is particularly strong, with comprehensive coverage of various aspects of life in the city, including education, culture and workforce, together with a set of Shockwave maps that set the location into its national, regional and local context. There are sections on the key industry sectors, with links into the relevant pdf brochures and details of the property and development sites available.

Evaluation Methodology

Our overriding criterion in assessing and selecting the sites was to adopt the view of a potential investor, someone seeking information about a particular region with a view to locating a facility there. The sites were therefore evaluated based on the following factors:
        Content -- Clearly the breadth and depth of the information provided was crucial: does the site provide comprehensive and meaningful data presented in a clear and user-friendly format? Examples of valuable and relevant data include profiles of the industry sectors in which the agency specializes, featuring lists of major investors in the region; background statistics and details of the available workforce; transport and infrastructure details; maps; tax rates and incentive information; labor costs; comparison with other regions; links to other useful sites; success stories; up-to-date news and announcements; and databases of available property.
        Ease of Contact -- It's unlikely that a corporation with a multi-million dollar investment project is going to make a major location decision based simply on the information presented by a Web site. It will want to contact the agency, probe for more information, pose particular questions and request specific data. The ease of contacting the agency via the site was therefore crucial. How clearly is the contact data displayed, and how comprehensive is this data? Are the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the key executives and their sectoral or regional roles and responsibilities clearly displayed? Are the agency worldwide locations listed? If the site includes contact forms for submission, do these actually work?
        Speed of Response -- In the current high-speed investment environment, where speed to market is everything, it is paramount that the corporate investor is not left twiddling their thumbs, awaiting a response to a request for information from the agency. We therefore sent each agency surveyed an anonymous email, purporting to be from a site selection consultant working on behalf of a North American client with an interest in establishing facilities in Europe. We asked simply that the agency respond with the correct contact within their organization to assist with our research. The agencies were marked on the speed of their response, and it was surprising how many stumbled at this hurdle. Several agencies that had scored extremely high on every other aspect of the assessment failed to respond, often ruling themselves out of a place in the top listings. Equally, the best agencies produced a laudable response, many replying to the email within two hours of issue.
        Functionality -- In this section, we evaluated technical aspects, such as speed of loading, ease of navigation, search facilities and site maps.
        Language -- Finally, we assessed the clarity and directness of the language used, but -- more importantly for sites aimed at international investors -- the range of languages available. Those sites offering content in two or more languages (in addition to English and their home language) scored most highly. Site Selection

Julia Cox is a director and co-founder of Oxford Intelligence, a U.K.-based firm of business analysts specializing in the provision of high-quality, corporate information to business professionals over the Internet. Oxford Intelligence provides clients -- mainly government development agencies, property companies and service providers -- with detailed, and often unpublished, analysis about today's and tomorrow's market-leading global companies. It focuses on the cross-border activities of businesses growing in international markets, with particular emphasis on foreign direct investment.
        Oxford Intelligence is the driving force behind, the leading community site for professionals involved in investment promotion, economic development and location issues worldwide. Focused on the physical expansion plans and cross-border moves of leading international companies, IPAWorld provides an invaluable personalized online source of news, links and events.
        Oxford Intelligence provides a variety of services to economic development agencies in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. These range from specialist tracking and interviewing of expanding companies, to sector reports focusing on the international expansion strategies of corporates and the response of development agencies. With over 70 analysts in its global network and significant corporate databases, Oxford Intelligence is uniquely positioned to research all aspects of international corporate expansion and location issues.
        For more information, email, visit the company Web site at, or telephone: +44 1908 521477.

©2001 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. SiteNet data is from many sources and not warranted to be accurate or current.