With Olivier Willocx, Brussels Chamber of Commerce

By Nick Klenske

Speaking about the Brussels Region as a place to do business, AmCham Connect sat down with Olivier Willocx, CEO of the Brussels Chamber of Commerce (BECI), to discuss how ‘The Capital of Europe’ is also a capital for business.

Klenske: What sets the Brussels Region apart from other European regions?

Willocx: Simple, it’s international – exceptionally international.

There’s really no other urban area like it where most of the population was not born here. And with its international character, Brussels is also a very affluent region. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact that Brussels is a small region, but also with the fact that people come from other places to work and live here.

More so, Brussels is full of flexible people to work with and for. You’ll rarely hear the word ‘no’ uttered here as we’re creative at finding solutions. Take for example the issue of language. As Brussels is a bilingual Region, companies could get frustrated as to which language to operate in and the need for endless translations that this requires. What you’ll often see is English being used as a ‘solution’. In fact, many companies have their board meetings conducted and recorded in English (although official minutes must be in the language of the company’s articles of association).

To summarize, for a business, Brussels offers an open and affordable region in which to work and live. It’s well connected via air, train and road. It has a diverse, open-minded culture and, overall, the quality of life is exceptional.

Klenske: Would you say Brussels is a tech-savvy region?

Willocx: By far it is the best connected city in Belgium. That being said, however, there is need for improvement in the availability of WiFi. The challenge is to stay one step ahead of the curve – particularly as this is a service-orientated Region.

Klenske: Is the Brussels Region really just an EU Region?

Willocx: The European Union and the Brussels Region are one and the same. Without the EU, Brussels would be comparable to Bordeaux. The EU drives the Region’s defining characteristic – internationalism – which in turn establishes it as a global business and government hub. As the EU is here, Brussels is proud to accept such a large number of foreigners. Such dynamics just wouldn’t work anywhere else.

Klenske What are the challenges of doing business in the Brussels Region?

Willocx: I think it can be difficult to understand the ‘local rules’ of doing business here. For example, in Brussels it is common for a company to provide its employees with a vehicle. To foreigners, this is often seen as strange, but here it is normal. It is a complex system that takes time to understand, and your business success hinges on being able to comprehend and adapt to these local practices.

BECI helps. We work with companies to evaluate whether or not it’s a good idea to open a business the Brussels Region. In general, it is my belief that if you are a company looking to break into the EU market, then there’s no better place to lay your foundation for success then here in the Brussels Region.

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