Top Dutch: Northern Netherlands top of mind with foreign companies
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Top Dutch: Northern Netherlands top of mind with foreign companies

In early 2017, there was suddenly Top Dutch: a campaign aimed at attracting Elon Musk and his gigafactory to the northern Netherlands. Top Dutch turned out to be a keeper, because in the coming years it will be used structurally to get Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland top of mind among international companies that are orienting on establishing themselves in Europe. Gerard de Boer of Initio and Wubbo Everts of the NOM talk about the origins and future of what they themselves prefer to call a movement rather than a campaign.

Rapid launch

The first idea around Top Dutch was born out of dissatisfaction with Patrick Brouns, deputy of the province of Groningen, who was not invited to Henk Kamp's trip to Silicon Valley. Kamp was supposed to present the Netherlands to Tesla as a possible location, but without representation from Groningen. De Boer: "It was just before Christmas when we received a phone call. The question was whether we could ensure that we would have a virtual presence when Kamp made his presentation in January. We had to pull out all the stops, but we succeeded in collaboration with Stef van der Ziel and others.

The moment Kamp told his story, we went wild with the online campaign, including targeting Teslam employees and, of course, Musk himself. There was no escape, we were everywhere. When Kamp walked out of the room, he was asked by RTL 4 about Top Dutch. It was fantastically picked up.' It marked an important moment: Top Dutch was born and loaded as a concept.

This moment coincided with the desire of the three provinces to better position themselves as a region towards international companies. Everts: "We have an awful lot to offer. Google and IBM have already seen that well, we are absolutely ready for more companies from abroad, but then they have to know us and our qualities.' De Boer: 'Top Dutch already stood as a brand and had proven to work to introduce many people to the northern Netherlands at once. It seemed logical to continue with that. This is therefore a unique collaboration between these three provinces. We are really coming out as one region.'

Top Dutch has long since ceased to be just about Tesla

The campaign will eventually be fixed for at least two years and consists of a collaboration of provinces, municipalities, education and entrepreneurs, but has long ceased to be just about Tesla. "Actually, we are more of a movement. We have a Whatsapp group that we use to share knowledge and inspiration to strengthen the positioning of the Northern Netherlands.

This positioning is really not just about getting Tesla here, we are interesting for many more companies with our strong sectors. And it is precisely the establishment of foreign companies that is important for the northern Netherlands. It strengthens our economy, makes us less vulnerable, especially if the gas will soon disappear, and provides a stronger social cohesion. It makes the Northern Netherlands more robust," says De Boer.

Phone call Tesla not highest goal

The latest campaign, "Electrify," focuses on Elon Musk for the last time. Large billboards hang in Silicon Valley calling on the Teslaman to call Holland. To date, that has not happened. De Boer: "Ultimately, that one phone call from Musk is not the highest goal. We find it much more important that we get into the minds of internationally oriented companies, so that they think of us when considering a foreign location. That is why it is very valuable that the national, but also foreign press have once again paid attention to it.'

"The North? We don't say that anymore

The next campaigns will focus on other themes such as, for example, the strong Agro-Dairy sector and the strides being made in energy transition. Again and again, the unique aspects of the region will be emphasized. In doing so, the term "the North" is carefully avoided. Too many negative associations, according to De Boer: "In the Netherlands that term is associated with earthquakes, poverty, unemployment and subsidized jobs.

Abroad, 'The Northern' is a very diffuse term, in fact people then assume they are dealing with Lapland. We are only going to talk about the strengths, we have to get rid of the image that we are a backward region. The opposite is true.' In fact, there are strengths aplenty, both men list: 'Our level of knowledge is high and we have a relaxed labor market, these are important strengths.

For years we have excelled in innovation in various fields, think medical technology and green energy. This makes us an excellent region to start experimenting with electric flying, for example.'

Not just an image campaign

Although Elon Musk doesn't necessarily have to call, the idea is of course that the phone will ring. Everts: "We are ready for it. Top Dutch is not only an image campaign, the process afterwards is also secured. Four companies have already become interested as a result of the campaign; we really make sure that they get in touch with the right parties and can take concrete steps. We don't just say that lines of communication are short here, they are. The campaign is already bearing fruit. And we are far from finished.