Interview: Bernard Deflesselles, President of Provence Promotion

Interview: Bernard Deflesselles, President of Provence Promotion
Bernard Deflesselles, Deputy and President of Provence Promotion
14 January 2021 / Buy a company, Grow your business, invest in provence, Relocate to France, Start your business

"In times of crisis, we must work as a task force."

Bernard Deflesselles has served as National Assembly Member for Bouches du Rhône, city councilman for La Ciotat and was elected regional councilman in 2020, in addition to leading a successful career as an engineer at IBM. He was recently named President of Provence Promotion, the economic development agency for the Aix-Marseille-Provence area. Interview.

You just took the reins from Jean-Luc Chauvin, Chairman of the Aix-Marseille-Provence CCI, and are embarking on a three-year term. Tell us about your road map?

I would like to begin by applauding the work carried out over the last three years by my predecessor, Jean-Luc Chauvin. He is still a close collaborator as he is serving as Vice-President of the agency under an alternating leadership arrangement between our two main backers: the Marseille-Provence Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis. Martine Vassal, President of the Metropolis, gave me the opportunity to head up this agency designed to promote our region and its resources.

In times of crisis, we must work as a task force with our private and institutional partners, continue to burnish our reputation internationally and reinforce our six industries of excellence ‒ digital economy, environment/eco-manufacturing, lifestyle, health and wellness, maritime/logistics and mechanics/aeronautics/shipyards. For example, the construction of the ITER experimental thermonuclear fusion reactor is a major factor in our region's appeal to foreign companies. With the regional agency RisingSUD, we are going to launch a prospecting campaign to encourage international companies to create a base here. This initiative goes beyond the scope of the Metropolis. For the last three months, I've been meeting with all our partners and ‒ just recently ‒ the communes and intercommunal structures of Arles, Terre de Provence Agglomération and Vallée des Baux-Alpilles, which have joined Provence Promotion.

The pandemic brought international travel to a halt. How do you go about prospecting in this environment?

The agency has to be agile and responsive. To maintain the appeal of our region and bring in new businesses, we have to continue prospecting. For the moment, because travel is impossible, we are using digital canvassing tactics. Our strategy relies on activating our networks abroad and reaching out to junior and senior representatives on the ground. We have a team on the American West Coast, which we are going to expand through a partnership with the University of Utah. That will give us better coverage of the United States.

The hotbeds for future growth are in Europe, Japan, South Korea and China. We plan to strengthen our connection with the Port of Marseille-Fos to set up a joint representation in China. Our influence program to engage the region's biggest companies gives us points of contact at their subsidiaries abroad.

The lockdowns in 2020 prompted many employees in Paris to move to medium-sized cities in France. Could that be an opportunity for Provence Promotion?

Many employees took that first step by leaving Paris for the French countryside. For those seeking a better quality of life, our region boasts many assets to draw people who are relocating. We took a deep dive into this key trend last September during a seminar we organized at "thecamp". We invited the real estate directors of major French corporations to imagine the future of workplaces and pitched the advantages of Provence. We have significant capacity to offer new real estate products and incredible connectivity to telecommunications networks. In partnership with ADI, France's professional association of real estate managers, and Euroméditerranée, we are going to release a joint publication in the first quarter of 2021. It will present the shared vision of companies and regions.

What opportunities do you see for the region arising from the France Relance and European Union economic stimulus plans?

We are going to receive massive infrastructure investments to the tune of €5.1 billion as part of the National-Regional future planning agreement ("CPER"). As for the European programs, which are prioritizing regional governments to administer the funds, I have a great network of contacts in Brussels. As a National Assembly member on the Foreign Affairs Committee and as Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee, I make it a point to convey a message of global appeal that highlights all our assets and our capacity for adaptation. That is an undisputed key to successfully dealing with the crisis and bringing about a lasting recovery.