Five years after its revolution, which sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisia is emerging. Here in Brussels, the Tunisian Foreign Investment Agency (FIPA) organised an event in order to brand the country. “Tunisia is home to a highly educated work force that takes enormous pride in its business and industry. Business owners in the capital city of Tunis, in Sousse, Sfax, Bizerta and other locations will tell you that even as the revolution of early 2011 took place, workers were at their jobs, protecting property and equipment and ensuring that business continuity would never be in jeopardy” explained Mokhtar Chouari, FIPA General Delegate for Benelux.
Engineers in Abundance
In Tunis, STMicroelectronics opened a design center for R&D at the El Ghazala Pole technology park, because it could find engineers in better supply than it could in France, and at a level of technical expertise that was comparable, says Hichem Ben Hamida, STMicroelectronics Director. “There is no problem finding engineers here in Tunis” he relates. An initial staff of eight has grown to 220 engineers in the past several years, now occupying three buildings at the technology park. The team conducts R&D on semiconductors, hardware and software, acting as an extension of ST’s southern France operation. Transit between Tunis and Marseilles is quick and easy, and the language commonality makes the Tunisian center a natural fit”, he points out.
ST is immune from turnover issues at the moment, says Hichem Ben Hamida, as the rate of new companies coming to Tunis for R&D talent dropped off following the revolution in 2011 and a European business climate that is hampering companies’ expansion plans. “I have engineers here with 10 years’ experience, though the average is five to seven years,” he notes. “Each year we hire about 20 additional people.”
Why Tunisia is not better recognized as an R&D center is not clear to Ben Hamida, because the higher education resources are plentiful. “The majority of engineer- ing professors have years of corporate lab experience in Europe and the U.S. So language skills in the R&D community in Tunisia are superior, which benefits companies here greatly.” A bigger benefit, he adds, is the fact that the cost of the R&D talent in Tunisia is one third the cost of the same talent in Europe.
“We are always improving incentives for Tunisian and foreign com- panies, and the Ministry of Investment is right now preparing a new incentives program, which we are contributing input on. Simplifying investment procedures is a central part of this plan and of an effort headed by the IFC to improve investment conditions”. explained Hichem Elloumi, President of Electrical and Automotive Industries Federation.
“The Tunisian government’s 2016-2020 Economic Development Plan promises large growing perspectives for high added value sectors such as agribusiness and investment promotion campaign for the Plan Launched on November 29 in Tunis combined with the adoption of a new investment code will result in an uptick in foreign investment, which is key to reviving economic growth and job creation. Consequently, foreign investors are most welcome in Tunisia” concluded Mokhtar Chouari, FIPA General Delegate for Benelux.