Thriving R&D

Against this dreary backdrop, Sophia Antipolis shines. Overall employment in the office park is up almost 10 percent from the end of 2000, keeping alive a streak that everyone connected to Sophia brags about: Since the early 1980s, Sophia has never experienced a net decrease in total jobs from one year to the next.

So how has the office park pulled this off? For starters, Sophia’s charter mission of developing a thriving R&D center has saved it from massive layoffs: Companies in cost-cutting mode often hack away at other divisions before touching their R&D operations. But the AmEx tale illustrates another primary reason why the area has managed to keep its head above water: Sophia’s aggressive efforts to woo foreign businesses � despite hefty corporate taxes � and its attentiveness to companies once they set up shop in the office park.

At the forefront of these efforts lies Sophia’s elaborate � and well funded � network of development agencies. In 2002, three separate organizations, staffed by more than 40 employees and funded by more than $10 million in revenue from corporate tax and real estate sales, worked full-time to lure businesses to Sophia.

Executives at Sophia’s corporations say that the benefits of sustained development are worth the extra tax dollars. The agencies ensure that Sophia stays a vibrant technology center, one that attracts some of the best technology and engineering minds in Europe. “Growth stimulates growth,” says Jacques Gros, the director of IBM Corporation’s nearby La Gaude site, which develops circuitry for the Sony PlayStation and other products. “We all work for our own companies,” adds Gros, “but we also give back to help the area because, ultimately, it helps us.”

Whatever It Takes?

The agencies put money and muscle into their courtship. CAD, which employs 20 and boasts a $7 million budget, targets small companies worldwide, from Singapore to San Francisco to Moscow. “We call, we write, we do whatever it takes to get a meeting,” says Yves Kraemer, CAD’s Los Angeles-based U.S. representative. “We stay vigilant.”

Once CAD gets a positive response from its quarry, it sets up a trip to Sophia, including meetings with representatives from other businesses and local government officials. It matches the company with prospective office sites and helps the foreign business negotiate relocation hurdles. After the company is settled in, CAD helps to market the business’s wares in Europe via space in trade shows and entry to trade groups. “They have a way of being present without being pushy,” says Paolo Cattolico, a product manager at Hewlett-Packard Company, which took over Compaq Computer Corporation’s site last year after the companies merged.

The efforts have paid off. Around 1,230 companies are now in Sophia, 148 of which are foreign-owned. Since the start of 2000, AmEx, Toyota Motor Corporation, Allergan Pharmaceuticals, and the automotive division of Siemens AG have set up operations there, as well as Kaspersky Labs Int’l., one of Russia’s largest software companies.

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