As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory. With Portugal entering its third week of a nationwide lockdown, Philomène Dias, director of the country’s investment promotion agency, AICEP, talks about its priority to ensure that, during this crisis, companies retain staff and honour their contracts.
Q: Has your team easily adapted to working from home?
A: We have been working at home since March 16. It hasn’t stopped our operation and ability to move on with the development of our clients’ projects. For example, last week we were supposed to have a visit from a prospective investor. Although they couldn’t travel to Portugal, we conducted their visit through video meetings. We organised meetings with recruitment companies, fellow industry companies, and with universities. The result was very positive. It works.
Q: How else can you assist companies in remote site selection?
A: We are still in contact with investors we’ve been working with for months on a specific project – sending them the info they ask for, for example. So we’re doing what we usually do. We’re still receiving new investor attention, but not in industries such as automotives. Interest from services is still moving forward, such as in IT or finance. In terms of proactively reaching new potential investors, this becomes more tricky since many major companies are prioritising damage minimisation, not new expansions. We foresee a further reduction and negative impact on investment in the weeks to come. Still, we need to identify which sectors of activity are more open to investment, such as medical devices and textiles. Portugal has a long tradition in technical textiles.
Q: How are new investors into Portugal completing construction or setting up their operations?
A: In the industrial sectors we’ve seen companies stop training programmes, [which are very hands-on], as well as site construction. All the sectors that deal more directly with consumer products, such as fashion and automotive, they will be more concerned with the delay.
For industrial companies that have, for instance, incentive contracts with us, another concern of theirs is to see how to manage these contracts. They have also asked us for help in understanding government measures surrounding social security for their employees. The priority of the government is to ensure that, during this crisis, companies keep to their staff and contracts.
Q: Was there anything else you’d like to mention?
A: It’s impressive to what extent the public sector, and many companies, have been able to adapt to this new situation and keep business going as usual. As with the financial crisis a decade ago, the Portuguese government will develop and implement measures to support companies, investors and small and medium-sized enterprises, concerning their incentives, deadlines and labour market flexibility.
In a context of uncertainty and unexpected global shutdown, the key leadership quality is the ability to communicate with the team: to be present from a remote place, to listen to people’s concerns, and to define new priorities; to focus on the client and communicate how we can be of help, instead of focusing on results. It’s very important to work even more as a team, promoting collaborative working.
Philomène Dias is director of inward investment AICEP.