In January 2018, WFB Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen GmbH (Bremeninvest) opened an office in Ho Chi Minh City, making Bremen the first federal state with its own representation in Vietnam. The country on the South China Sea is widely seen as a bridge to South East Asia, and is one of the region’s emerging markets. In this interview, Manuel Kühn, international relocation project manager with a focus on Vietnam at Bremeninvest, reports on the launch in Vietnam, initial successes, promising partnerships and plans for 2019.
Why did Bremeninvest open an office in Vietnam in January 2018?
Martin Günthner, the Senator for Economic Affairs, visited Vietnam with a delegation from the chamber of commerce at the end of 2016. He was impressed with the country’s economic growth and raised the prospect of establishing an office there. We examined this idea in great detail, and set up the office in Ho Chi Minh City with our representative Hoang Thi Huong at the end of 2017. The overseas office advises investors as well as businesses from Vietnam looking to base themselves in Bremen, who it supports in finding and acquiring premises in Bremen. Companies from Bremen can also benefit from our network of contacts in Vietnam, and receive individual advice relating to their business interests.
What’s been happening since the official opening?
Our first challenge was to build structures and establish networks within Vietnam. Networking plays a much greater role over there than it does here – you’re either in or you’re nowhere. The network landscape is quite confusing at first glance, so it was essential for us that we employed someone locally who has been active in business there for over 20 years, has lots of contacts and is extremely familiar with the structures.
What issues does Bremeninvest focus on in Vietnam?
Vietnam is growing rapidly, and it is very interested in logistics and goods distribution hubs. In June and October of 2018 we hosted delegations from Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong in Bremen, and the itinerary included a visit to the Cargo Distribution Center (GVZ). Companies such as the GVZ development agency, Bremenports and Inros Lackner are providing expertise for development, construction and operation of a logistics hub in Vietnam, and in return they benefit from the business relations that develop out of that. Another focus is on the maritime industry. Vietnam is a large centre for shipbuilding and offers opportunities for Bremen companies. At the end of March we will be attending INMEX Vietnam, a major international industry exhibition. Renewable energies are also playing an increasing role in Vietnam, so wind power is another topic that we are keeping on top of. The areas of fisheries and food are also important, as Vietnam is very interested in exporting its products to Germany and Europe via Bremerhaven.
How important is the transfer of skilled labour?
The University of Bremen and Bremen University of Applied Sciences are intensifying their contacts with Vietnam, and students from Bremen are spending their semester abroad there. Vietnam is a young country – the average age is around 28 – and Germany is interested in IT staff, for example. At the same time, companies like Bremenports are collaborating with Bremen University to offer training courses in Vietnam to qualify skilled port and logistics workers. After all, you need trained staff to operate infrastructure such as a logistics hub.
What successes have you had so far?
In January 2019, we were proud to welcome our first relocation to Bremen from Vietnam, Nova Bremen GmbH. The company is owned by a Vietnamese construction group and wants to import specialised construction vehicles to Vietnam, including for its own use. This is the result of intensive local networking and PR activities in Vietnam, which we intend to build on over the long term.
What about companies from Bremen?
In 2018 we looked after four delegations from Vietnam in Bremen and Bremerhaven, but we also supported four from Bremen as they visited Vietnam. So the interest is definitely there, but it will take a while until we’re going to see some action. We provide businesses with individual, objective advice. If it becomes evident that the risk is too high, or that the Vietnamese market is not suitable for a company, then we tell them that. We give companies a realistic assessment, and we’re not about to force a relocation or a project at any cost, neither in Bremen nor in Vietnam.
“We see Vietnam as a springboard for South East Asia. That is a large and very interesting economic area.”
Bremen and Vietnam: in which areas can Bremeninvest initiate and support further collaborations?
Werder Bremen is an interesting example. Last year I read in a report about their support for the Young Coach Education Programme in Rwanda that a project was planned in Vietnam for 2019. So I phoned them up and we had a meeting with Werder Bremen. They’ve also got their eye on international markets, and we compared notes on Vietnam and the club’s social project in the country. We also see our involvement in Vietnam as a springboard for South East Asia. Singapore is South East Asia’s start-up hub, and in November 2018 it was the venue for the first Moin Startup Camp, which we attended with a delegation. We also aim to utilise our connections across different sectors and countries, and to bring start-ups to Bremen, of course, if they are interested in coming to Europe. It’s important for us to not just focus on larger companies, but to think outside the box, to be open to other issues and areas, and ideally to develop new opportunities that way.
What are your goals for 2019?
It’s been a good start to have our first company relocate to Bremen after we’ve only been active for one year. This shows that our strategy and our approach are successful, and we will be building on that. We also want to put more of a focus on our role as contacts for Bremen businesses for Vietnam and the region.
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