Limburg’s long-term goal is to become well known as a cross-border province. Connect Limburg, the organisation responsible for implementing brand strategy for the Dutch province, has the important task of making sure that all stakeholders are engaged with the strategy and willing to support it as it unfolds.
Having widespread buy-in is vital for success, because a good place branding strategy depends largely on having all stakeholders of the place working together towards the defined goals. Local business people play an important part in this. But it’s not always easy to get them on board.
Robert Govers, who worked on the Limburg strategy, said: “Most of the time private sector players find it very hard to understand how this [place brand] helps them to improve their business.
“In their day-to-day jobs they are mainly focused on selling products or services to consumers. They say things like ‘borders are irrelevant for us, how can they help us to sell our products?’”
This could present a significant challenge for Limburg. Nevertheless, some of the province’s most important firms are already convinced. When I visited Limburg in April, I spoke with two prominent local businessmen who support the cross-border mentality and actively leverage it in their business approach.
The first person I met was Jo Cox, director of Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier, part of the Smurfit Kappa Group. The Limburg-based mill is one of the largest in Europe and boasts strong output growth and performance. The Smurfit Kappa group prides itself on its sustainable approach to manufacturing and the Roermond Papier mill, managed by Cox, recently won an award for Bio Strategy of the Year.
Cox said: “For a big business like this, it’s important that we have no variations in currency. Also, Germany is a very strong economy, as we all know, and so we can take the opportunities it offers. All markets are accessible from here. We deliver to France, the UK, Poland, and so on. We also have good water connections, not just motorways. Our transportation costs are low. We’re the best in class regarding transport costs, because of our superb location.”
“There are 26 million people within a small radius of here [Roermond] so that’s very important. But it’s also extremely important that we have the right work ethos. We have really good people in this area. At the end of the day, it’s all about the motivation of the people,” he continued.
Paper manufacturing is not the only industry that can benefit from a cross-border location. It makes sense that Limburg’s unique geography would be highly beneficial to a company specialising in international transportation and logistics.
Seacon Logistics is headquartered in the Limburgian town and logistical hotspot of Venlo, where it has been operating since 1985. It is now the biggest company in North Limburg.
The company has a presence in over 75 countries and uses a multi-modal approach including land, rail and sea transportation methods. Seacon Logistics understands the power of leveraging the cross-border mentality, and in doing so has become closely aligned with the wider goals of Connect Limburg.
Corné Geerts, Seacon Logistics managing director, said: “From a logistics perspective, it’s very important to have close cooperation with Germany. Germany has the perfect rail infrastructure, going deep into the hinterland of Europe.”
“Obviously it’s hard for Limburg to compete with Amsterdam, where a lot of companies settle, because it has very good international connections. I don’t think it’s feasible yet for anywhere in Limburg to compete with an international city like Amsterdam,” he continued.
“But looking one step ahead, because real estate prices are so much lower here, Limburg could become an attractive alternative for internationals, not just the Dutch. Amsterdam is so congested and expensive. Often people just want to live somewhere calm and quiet,” said Geerts.