Where’s the Best Place to Start a Business in Northern France?

Relocating to France to start a new business is a dream for many, and with the UK's exit from the EU, France is a leading choice for foreign businesses who want to make their mark in Europe. Whether it’s a couple opening a gîte in the French countryside or an SME expanding to new markets, France is now fantastically welcoming to entrepreneurs from overseas, and as one of the world’s major economies, opportunities abound in this diverse and beautiful country.

France represents around one-fifth of the Euro area’s gross domestic product, but it isn’t only a large country in terms of its economy. When it comes to sheer size, France wins out as the biggest country in the European Union, and the third-largest on the European continent.

The landscape of France encompasses everything from a balmy Mediterranean coast, to snowy mountains, to glittering tech metropolises, and every region has its own special character. For British people looking to maintain strong links with their home country, however, the north of France is particularly appealing due to its easy transport links with England.

Related article: Start a business in France in 8 Steps

By choosing to establish themselves in France, entrepreneurs can take advantage of the nationwide support that this business-friendly country can provide, such as equity loans to export grants from France’s public investment bank, BPIFrance. As such as diverse country, however, understanding more about the different areas in the north of France is useful for forming a business strategy and making informed decisions about where to set up shop.

Île-de-France

The home of Paris, Versailles and Disneyland, Île-de-France is the most populous of the eighteen regions of France and has the highest per capita GDP. The Île-de-France is the perfect area for any entrepreneur who wants to be in the thick of it, giving them the option of living either in France’s capital or within easy commuting distance.

Paris is a famously beautiful, historic city, and one that acts as a magnet for visitors from around the globe. But while Paris’s idiosyncratic nature, rich culture and famous monuments are some of the things that make this city special, one of its most overlooked advantages is its standing as a leading and international centre of business.

Some of Île-de-France’s advantages for businesses include:

● Its status as a major tourist destination. Paris is the second-most visited city in the world, creating a booming tourism and restaurant industry. (See our article How to open a restaurant in France.)
● Paris is home to the world’s biggest startup hub, known as Station F. This incredible scheme gathers a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem under one roof. (See our article The best cities for tech startups in France.)
● The city and its surrounding areas have the advantage of a highly qualified workforce, with the region accounting for 23.1% of all jobs in France and over a third of all executives. Of the working population, nearly 40% are university graduates.
● Paris has the highest GDP in Europe (representing over 30% of the nation’s GDP) and Île-de-France is the leading region in Europe for hosting the world’s top 500 corporate headquarters. By forming a base in Paris, businesses recognise that they then have access to 500 million European consumers from one of the Union’s most powerful members.
● The region surrounding Paris benefits from excellent investment levels, with the highest R&D expenditure in Europe.
● As well as a vibrant tourism industry, Paris is also regarded as the world fashion capital, with many leading brands headquartered there. (See our article How to open a retail clothes shop in France.)
● Île-de-France benefits from a large amount of business real estate (particularly office space), which is twice as cheap to occupy as London.
● The bulk of the digital economy in France is centred in Paris and the Hauts-de-Seine.

Normandy & Brittany

Lapped by the English Channel and with a population largely descended from Celts and Vikings, Brittany and Normandy have a distinct culture and many historical ties to Britain (with the Norman’s making a particular ruckus on English shores in 1066). Both regions are close to the Channel Islands and have an extensive coastline, with Brittany possessing a rugged Atlantic coast on its western side that is reminiscent of Cornwall and Wales.

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Normandy is a popular area for Brits due to its proximity to the UK, but its remarkable history and heritage, rich food and gentle countryside are also powerful inducements for both visitors and ex-pats to favour in the region. Brittany is also famed for its beauty, with quaint fishing villages and patchwork fields basking in a balmy climate - with the region being both warmer and drier than the south of England.

● Rennes, the capital city of Brittany, is one of France’s main centres for telecommunication and high tech, as well as growing over the last decade into a major centre for digital innovation, facilitated by significant R&D and a network of seven technology hubs. The city is also only 1 hour 25 minutes from Paris by high-speed train.
● Normandy is an excellent location for trade due to its extensive port complex and convenient location near Paris, making it a gateway not only to Europe but the wider world. As such, over a third of the regional GDP is created by exports.
● Both regions have strong maritime traditions, with successful fishing and shipbuilding industries. The agri-food industry accounts for a third of Brittany's businesses and around 70,000 jobs, while Normandy has a highly developed car manufacturing sector and is a significant cider-producing region.

Grand Est & Hauts-de-France

The North East of France is bordered by the English Channel, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland, contains two mountain ranges (the Ardennes and Vosges) and features the cities of Lille, Calais and Strasbourg. Sometimes described as “the heart of Europe”, Grand Est is home to the city of Strasbourg and the European Parliament building, while Hauts-de-France is the gateway to Britain through both the Eurotunnel and Calais-Dover shipping route.

Related article: How to transfer your business to France

Grand Est is historically the meeting point for the Germanic and Latin worlds, and the area is particularly famous for producing Champagne. Hauts-de-France also has a strong Flemish influence in both their architecture and food, and enjoys a stunning 120 miles of sweeping coastline.

● Grand Est benefits from having vibrant urban centres, some of which are less than an hour away from Paris. Combined with the neighbourly relations with the countries that border the region, this makes Grand Est a great spot for international trade.
● The Hauts de France is another area with an extremely profitable agri-food industry, particularly concerning food for export (such as packaged vegetables).
● The coastline of Hauts de France is advantaged by a substantial transport network including the three major ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer, which serve passenger, freight and fishing industries. The planned Seine-Nord Europe Canal will further improve upon this system, connecting Le Harve to the whole of the north European system and further benefiting any firms dealing with logistics.
● These regions also demonstrate manufacturing expertise across many specialised sectors, including the chemicals and metalworking industries. Manufacturing currently accounts for 16% of jobs in the area.
● Alongside its rich history, Grand Est is also looking to the future with over 50 technology transfer and innovation bodies, and the formation of "competitiveness clusters"; membership organisations that gather SMEs, large companies, research and higher education institutions around a specific topic and within a specific French region. As a result, the area now has the fourth most patent applications in France.

Pays de la Loire, The Loire Valley & Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

Heading further south and towards central France, you can find the regions of Pays de la Loire, The Loire Valley & Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Each has its own character and attractions, although all benefit from seemingly endless miles of rolling countryside, from the Bay of Biscay in Pays de la Loire to the Jura mountain range in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.

The Loire Valley (or Centre-Val de Loire) is defined by its farmland and magnificent châteaux, and is famous for white wines such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Pays de la Loire has a similarly rural culture and is the leading producer of milk and beef in France. Encompassing the former region of Burgundy, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté rivals the Loire Valley for winemaking, and also benefits from a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. (See our article How to start a wine business in France.)

Despite the robustly agricultural nature inherent to this sweep of France, each of these regions boasts dynamic urban centres, including Nantes, Angers, Dijon and Orléans.

● The Pays de la Loire region has the advantage of ranking as a leading market for advanced production technologies (which is defined as the innovative forms of transforming raw materials or components in new products).
● The western coast city of Nantes is celebrated as a creative centre for design and architecture.
● The French region Centre-Val-de-Loire is ideally situated to create connections with almost all of France’s regions, including the Parisian region Île-de-France. With some spots only an hour away from Paris, the region is home to over 800 business parks.
● The Loire Valley is also a popular tourist spot, tempting nine million travellers a year with its untouched scenery, vast vineyards and famous châteaux, creating excellent opportunities for those who want to enter the hospitality and tourism industry. (See our article: How to Start a Holiday Cottage Business in France.)
● In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, one in five of the employed population work in manufacturing across the regions’ 14,700 industrial plants. The region is particularly well known for making cars for leading brands.
● The region is also the second most important farming region in France, and produces dairy products, beef, wine, cereals, beverages and spirits.

For UK citizens looking to start a business in the north of France, there are a plethora of opportunities across every region, and with some forethought and research Brits can find their place amongst the business community of this thriving economy.

For more information on how to open a business in France, including registering a business address, opening a business bank account or finding an English-speaking accountant, please download our free guide below or call us on 0033 (0) 1 53 57 49 10 or write to us through our contact page. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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