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9 Key sectors in the Netherlands offering interesting business opportunities

Starting a business abroad or expanding your current business to another country might be a very lucrative step for you in many cases. The Netherlands is currently in the top list of destinations to expand to, due to many contributing and beneficial factors such as a very stable economy, membership of the European Union, fantastic infrastructure and a wide variety of flourishing key sectors. The Netherlands is located in the northwest of Europe, neighboring the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Holland has a current population of over 17 million people, which is quite a lot considering its relatively small area coverage of 16.040 square miles.

Nonetheless, the Dutch economy is in the top 25 of the world at number 17 with a GDP of $907.05 billion during 2019.[1] For such a small country that is no small feat! The Netherlands also acquired the 4th position in the World Competitiveness Ranking 2020.[2] Next to that, the Dutch are considered one of the ten leading exporters in the world, due to its strategically positioned Rotterdam port and Schiphol airport. You can expand your business in almost any sector here, as innovation is one of the countries top priorities. In this article we would like to familiarize you with some very interesting key sectors in the Netherlands, as well as the benefits these might offer for your business or business idea.

1.     The Agriculture and Food Industry

One of the oldest and most innovative sectors in the Netherlands is agriculture. There are many contributing factors that play a role in the huge success of this sector, such as the mild climate in the Netherlands, mechanization of agriculture, the geographical location, innovative technology and the very fertile soil. This doesn’t just put the Dutch in the forefront of agricultural innovation And technology, but also one of the top exporters of food and other agricultural products worldwide. The Netherlands has held the 1st position in the entire EU when it comes to international agricultural export for a long time, but also ranks 2nd in the entire world with only the US preceding the Dutch.

Needless to say; if you have ambitions within this sector, the Netherlands is an excellent opportunity to expand or start your business. The sector also employs around 5% of the entire Dutch labor force, so it will be relatively easy for you to find good and qualified personnel. Some of the well-known products the Dutch export are fruits like tomatoes, apples and pears, vegetables like cucumbers and chilies and of course an extensive array of flowers and flower bulbs, next to plants.

2.     The IT and Technological Industry

Directly opposite farming and agriculture is the highly advanced Dutch IT and tech sector. Due to the large amount of citizens living on a small space of land, the Netherlands is the most wired country of the entire EU. This proves to be a fantastic environment for tech innovators and IT businesses due to it being an ideal testing ground for new ideas. But it’s not just the large amount of connected people that make the country an interesting option for your start-up or expansion. Since tech is a hot subject in the country, the entire workforce itself is tech-savvy and in almost every case bi- or even trilingual. Next to that, you can expect high quality digital infrastructure, a very innovative way of thinking and culture and many subsidies granted by the government and semi-governmental organizations.

Dutch consumers are digital pioneers and frontrunners in general; a large portion of all citizens enthusiastically embraces new technology and digital applications. If there is something that can be managed, done or analyzed by an app, the Dutch will find a way to make this happen. Due to its high-quality digital infrastructure, the Netherlands currently have the 2nd place worldwide regarding online connectivity. This is mainly because a staggering amount of 98% of all households have broadband internet. Furthermore, the Netherlands houses the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX). This is considered to be a worldwide leader in digital data distribution. Below we will elaborate more on some noteworthy current topics in the Dutch IT and tech industry.

Home to many existing tech and IT giants

The Netherlands is an extremely popular country for IT companies of all shapes and sizes; from start-ups and starting entrepreneurs to already existing multinationals. Did you know that Holland houses multiple branch offices and even headquarters of companies like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, IBM and NTT? This makes for a highly innovative blend of already existing knowledge and experience, next to new pioneers who can add value with inventive solutions and interesting concepts.

Cybersecurity in the Netherlands

With The Hague as International city of Peace and Justice, the Netherlands are considered pioneers in cybersecurity and thus; also leaders within this sector in the European Union. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is considered to be the center of expertise for cybersecurity in the Netherlands. This organization highly encourages an active cooperation between businesses within this sector and the government. This doesn’t only add to the safety of the network, but also to the digital resilience of the country as well.

Many international organizations such as the International Criminal Court, Europol, NATO and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia chose to base their operations here for this exact reason. Next to these organizations, the Netherlands also houses the largest security cluster of Europe which is named The Hague Security Delta (HSD). The HSD is a national network that consists of more than 300 member organizations, from the public as well as the private sector. These companies and organizations work together to promote and accelerate new cybersecurity solutions, following the ever-changing digital market. If you are interested in cybersecurity, the Netherlands would be a perfect place to start your enterprise.

Artificial Intelligence is constantly evolving

During the past decade technology has become more and more advanced, ultimately resulting in the creation of AI. The Dutch are again pioneers within this field, as they recognize the massive opportunities big data driven AI can offer in the 21st century. Two years ago the Dutch launched the Strategic Action Plan for AI, which aims at integrating AI in several layers of society in order to reap maximum benefits. To this end three separate pillars were introduced:

  1. The capitalization on economic and societal opportunities for AI
  2. The advancement of AI knowledge through research & development and human capital
  3. The safeguarding of the public interest through the establishment of ethical AI guidelines[3]

Next to the action plan, the NL AI coalition exists in order to unite all partners such as the government, the entire AI and tech industry, civil society itself and a wide plethora of knowledge institutions such as universities. The unification is based on the purpose to accelerate developments in the field of AI in the Netherlands and internationally. This inherently attracted many international companies within this sector, such as Brain Corp, ABB and Wonderkind. The quickly growing sector and industry will provide interesting business opportunities for decades in the future.

Crossovers between the tech sector and other sectors

Since the tech and IT sector are so prevalent in the Netherlands, there are also many crossovers between this sector and many other sectors. Collaboration is a huge subject in the country, as it sets the base for constant evolution within the entire business sector. This can clearly be seen in several intersections between the tech industry and sectors such as smart farming, the Dutch gaming industry, the entire medical and health industry and the chemical and pharmaceutical sector. The aim is to build a sustainable, stable economy with maximum potential.

Accelerating digitalization even further

The Dutch government established the Dutch Digitalization Strategy in 2018, which is aimed at accelerating digitalization in various sectors. These include (but are not limited to) mobility, energy, healthcare, agrifood and also the laying of a firmer foundation of digitalization in sectors such as privacy, cybersecurity, fair competition and digital skills. The Dutch want to make it possible to become Europe’s digital leader, by basically equipping all Dutch citizens with proper digital skills. With a connection rate of 98% this is entirely possible.

3.     The Creative Industry

The Netherlands is the birthplace of some of the most influential artists of the last centuries. Historical artists like Rembrandt, Mondrian and Escher have obtained worldwide recognition for their priceless artworks. There is a very vibrant artistic and creative community up until this day in the Netherlands, with Dutch cities as creative hubs where all forms of art and design can flourish. The Dutch are also well-known for their originality and entrepreneurial spirit, often resulting in unique crossovers between art forms and business sectors.

The Netherlands is ranked in the global top 10 regarding trade, brands and jobs. The Dutch advertising industry influences all other sectors, nationally as well as internationally. The Netherlands houses more than 30 universities and other knowledge institutions that are solely focused on art and design, such as the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. These institutions are rather prestigious and require a lot of effort in order to even be admitted. This leads to a large amount of highly schooled and skilled artists, designers and other creative professionals that can prove to be beneficial for your brand on all levels. Creativity is a welcome subject in the Netherlands, and due to the high demand for professionals it is quite easy to set up a business in the Netherlands for yourself in the creative sector.

The fashion industry and major brands

One of the sectors Dutch excel at is branding. Due to the strategical position of the country it is very easy to serve customers all over Europe, as well as globally. This makes the Netherlands an extremely attractive destination for many internationally well-known brands, such as Nike, Heineken and Adidas. You will find a vast array of potential big clients, if your work is good enough. Amsterdam in particular houses some of the most cutting-edge branding agencies known in the world such as Ridley Scott, Anomaly and 72andSunny. The crossover between creativity and business in the Netherlands is almost indistinguishable at times, due to the fact that these two have been seamlessly interwoven on the Dutch market.

Another trademark of Dutch inventiveness is the Dutch fashion industry. With a focused effort on sustainability and creativity, the Dutch have produced some unique designs in the world of fashion. This, in turn, attracted many internationally well-known existing brands such as Patagonia, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger to the Netherlands. The before mentioned knowledge institutions bring forth some of the most exceptional talents in the field; from designers to marketeers and creative directors. If you are interested in setting up a company is the fashion industry, the Netherlands will offer you many opportunities to solidify your business.

Media and broadcasters

Another globally known industry from the Netherlands is the media. Some of the biggest companies in the industry have branch offices here, such as Netflix, Disney and Discovery. Both Amsterdam and Hilversum are considered hubs for media and entertainment companies. Did you know that the Netherlands is the third-largest seller and exporter of worldwide TV formats, such as The Voice and Big Brother? The whole sector is overseen by the Dutch Media Authority, which is involved in overseeing the distribution and content of more than 500 TV programs. If you always dreamed about a media company, the Netherlands might be an option for you.

4.     The Logistics Sector

The Netherlands is considered a world leader in the logistics sector, covering trade and industry. A hefty amount of the Dutch national income is earned abroad, due to consistent and sustainable economic growth in this sector and constant room for improvements. With the port of Rotterdam and Schiphol airport within a two hours drive from every location, the entire globe is at your disposal if you choose to establish a logistics company in the Netherlands. The EU is also perfectly accessible in any direction with regular means of transportation.

The logistics sector is mainly focused on providing the best products and services via innovation, attracting talent and a good positioning of sectors nationally and internationally. Due to ever-increasing digitalization the entire logistics process is constantly updated and improved, which makes trade and transport faster and more efficient than ever before. The Netherlands currently has nine sectors in which they are considered global leaders: the so-called top sectors. These are the top priority investment wise, which is accomplished by not only financial investments but also tax incentives, removal of certain obstacles for trade and guarantees.

Background and objectives

In 2010 the Dutch Cabinet initiated the top sector policy. The logistics sector is one of the nine sectors in which the Netherlands excels, which makes the country a global leader in this sector. With an added value of 53 billion euros per year and 646,000 jobs, logistics is of great economic importance to the country. These are not only companies that transport or export products, but also logistics and supply chain functions within shipping companies. The Top Sector Logistics supports companies from the other (top) sectors; their costs consist of 8-18% logistics. For these companies, good logistics are decisive for timeliness and delivery reliability, and thus for their market position.

The Top Sector Logistics wants to make a maximum contribution to strengthening the international competitive position of the Netherlands. The Logistics Top Team has drawn up an action program in which the ambition of the Top Sector is laid down: “In 2020, the Netherlands will have an international top position (1) in the handling of goods flows, (2) as a chain director of (inter) national logistics activities and (3) as a country with an attractive innovation and business climate for shipping and logistics businesses.”[4]

Needless to say, the logistics sector in the Netherlands will benefit your company one way or another. For example; if you plan on establishing a web shop to sell and distribute (your) products worldwide, the Netherlands may be one of your best options on the entire planet. Next to being a European Union member and thus, having access to the European Single Market, the Netherlands has many trade agreements with countries all over the globe. If you are active in the trade and transport sector yourself, you will find many interesting business opportunities in the Netherlands that might boost your company exponentially.

5.     The Water Sector

The Dutch are surrounded by water. Did you know that half of the country is actually below sea level? Yet somehow this seems to work just fine due to multiple innovative solutions that prevent this area to flood. Due to many historical floods and periodical problems with heavy rainfall, the Netherlands became an expert in water technology and sustainable usage of water in general. The Water Top Sector focuses on several areas within the sector, such as energy technologies for the re-use of water, protection of land and smart and safe ships. It consists of three separate clusters which we will describe below, namely Water, Maritime and Delta technology. The knowledge of the Dutch regarding these subjects is considered to be among the best of the world. The Water Top Sector is essentially a collaboration of industry, government and a wide plethora of highly developed research institutions.[5]

Water Technology

The quality of the drinking water in the Netherlands is considered amongst the best in the world. This is mainly due to the efforts of the water technology cluster. The knowledge and technology that the Dutch posses on this subject is being used worldwide. This also goes for knowledge and expertise in the field of the purification and reusage of waste water. The international market in this area is very big, since water is needed due to its scarcity in many places in the world. The water technology cluster is founded on three general themes: smart water systems, resource efficiency and sustainable cities. If you are active in the water sector, collaboration might provide beneficial opportunities for your company,

Maritime Technology

Since the Netherlands is the maritime center of Europe, it also owns one of the most strong and complete maritime clusters worldwide. The Dutch are well known for their maritime skills for centuries, as they colonized part of the world before many other countries had such skills. Nowadays, the efforts are put into a diverse fleet of ships, versatility within the maritime industry and a sizable fleet as well as port. Rotterdam’s port also has the largest capacity in the world. The Netherlands also has a leading position in the offshore world, with large companies such as Heerema Marine Constructors. This cluster has four general themes, namely clean ships, effective infrastructure, winning at sea and smart and safe driving.

Delta Technology

The Delta Technology cluster focuses on living and surviving in low-lying deltas. As previously mentioned, part of the Netherlands is below sea level. Thus, the Dutch have become experts in the construction of solutions like the sand engine and the creation of extra land such as the Maasvlakte. Some internationally renowned solutions include a flood barrier constructed in St. Petersburg, assisting in making New Orleans livable and waterproof and also aiding New York after it was struck by hurricane ‘Sandy’. Such situations keep demanding sustainable solutions for managing water and flood protection. This can be applied everywhere in the world and is therefore an essential priority. This cluster has three general themes: flood protection, eco-design and water management.

6.     The Energy Industry

The energy industry is actually one of the main exports of the Netherlands and offers many interesting options regarding employment. Roughly 25% of the gas reserves of the entire European Union are located in this small country, since large natural gas deposits were discovered in 1959. The government has significantly reduced the production of natural gas though, after the extraction led to issues such as tremors and sinking grounds in the northern part of the Netherlands. Nonetheless, it remains an export product. Next to natural gas, the Netherlands also pioneers in area’s such as clean and sustainable energy, wind energy, greenhouse farming and biomass processing. If you have interesting ideas to innovate within this sector, you will have ample opportunities to do so.

7.     The Chemical Industry

One of the Netherlands’ leading economic industries is the chemical sector. This includes world leading Dutch chemical companies such as AkzoNobel, BASF and Royal Dutch Shell. Next to housing these multinationals, you will also find a vast array of research institutions, such as many universities and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The Netherlands is considered one of the leading suppliers in the EU of chemical services and products. The solid infrastructure and transportation network makes access to all sorts of raw materials easily possible. The chemical industry in the Netherlands focuses on multiple areas, like energy, climate, healthcare, transport and food security. There are many crossovers between various sectors, as the chemical industry is linked to almost every other industry. If you are interested in creating new solutions and smarter materials, this sector will provide you with all the resources and contacts you need.

8.     The Metallurgy Industry

If you are active in the manufacturing sector, then the metallurgy industry will be of interest to your company. This entire industry consists of several components such as services, consumables, equipment but also software. The industry is focused on both excellent craftsmanship and more modern production and techniques. This creates the opportunity of creating high quality products in a small timeframe; making it possible to deliver both quality and quantity so to speak.

The Netherlands is also in the top 20 of the largest steel exporters worldwide. The Netherlands exports more than 10 million metric tons of steel on a yearly basis, which accounts for 2% of all global export in steel. The steel is exported to more than 160 countries in the world. There are many crossovers between the metallurgy sector and other industries, you can think in the lines of healthcare, automobile, energy and power, real estate, mining and ship building. The offshore industry also greatly benefits from this specific sector.

9.     Tourism

Even though the Netherlands is a relatively small country, you can visit tons of interesting places. For instance, the country is known globally for its beautiful flower fields in spring and the touristic attraction ‘the Keukenhof’ that offers spectacular displays yearly in spring. Next to the flowers there are bustling cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague, the latter even has its own seaside resort also known as Scheveningen, home to the Kurhaus. All in all the country is well known for its historical heritage and exceptional art, which you can find in many museums. The tourism sector might be small compared to other countries, but it still contributes to almost 10% of the total employment of the country and more than 5% of the GDP. You can also find seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands. It’s a fun sector that offers possibilities if you have a creative and businesslike mind.

How to benefit from these and other sectors?

If you have been thinking about expanding your business to the Netherlands, chances are large that you can collaborate or invest in at least one of the above mentioned sectors and industries. Due to the high amount of intersectoral collaboration in the Netherlands, there are many business possibilities for innovative and driven entrepreneurs. The world is changing rapidly, so it might be a good start to invest in some fresh ideas. Intercompany Solutions can assist you with establishing a branch office or new company in the country in just a few business days. Contact us directly if you would like to receive more information.

[1] https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/#17-netherlands

[2]https://www.imd.org/contentassets/6333be1d9a884a90ba7e6f3103ed0bea/wcy2020_overall_competitiveness_rankings_2020.pdf

[3] https://investinholland.com/doing-business-here/industries/high-tech-systems/

[4] https://www.topsectorlogistiek.nl/wat-is-de-topsector-logistiek/

[5] https://www.dutchglory.com/markets/water-industry-in-the-netherlands/

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