Geneva struggles to attract new US companies

In 2018, there were 13 US multinationals in Geneva employing just over 6,700 staff. Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud

There was a sharp drop in the number of staff working for large US firms in canton Geneva between 2008-2018, according to the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), and the canton is struggling to attract new US businesses. 

This content was published on August 27, 2019 - 13:51

According to Amcham's annual reports, 16 American companies, mostly large industrial multinationals based in the canton, reduced the size of their total workforce between 2008 and 2018 by 10.4%. In 2018, there were 13 US multinationals employing just over 6,700 staff.

The downsizing and decline in attractiveness have been caused by "new uncertainties linked to Swiss political life" as well as international competition, explained Amcham Director General Martin Naville in an interview External linkwith the Tribune de Genève newspaper on Tuesday.

Last year, consumer goods multinational Procter and Gamble (P&G) employed 1,800 people in Geneva, 1,000 fewer than ten years earlier. Meanwhile, chemical manufacturer DuPont employed only 450 people, compared with 750 in 2008. 

Other big US firms which have been based in Geneva for a number of years include J P Morgan bank (1,000 staff), Cargill (400), Caterpillar (400), Ralph Lauren (350), Manpower (300) and Bunge (250).

Investor concerns

Naville said many American companies are now reluctant to set up in Switzerland, and Geneva in particular. 

He said two ongoing initiatives in Switzerland calling for “responsible business" and "moderate immigration" were particular sources of concern for investors. 

He added that Geneva faced stiff competition from business sites in the Netherlands and Ireland. Recently, Uber, Tesla and Netflix have chosen a European base in the Netherlands, while Airbnb, LinkedIn and Twitter located to Ireland.

In recent years, no new American company of any size has established itself in Switzerland, said Naville.

But there are still several success stories. The US pharmaceutical firm Covance now employs 720 staff in Geneva. Meanwhile, the luxury sector seems to be holding up well and has strengthened its presence. Cosmetics specialist Coty had 600 staff last year, compared to 167 ten years ago, and Elizabeth Arden now employs 150 in the canton.

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