French beckon California high-tech firms: 'come to the Riviera'

Silver-tongued Jacques Medecin wants you . . . if you are the executive of an American high-technology company. The veteran mayor of the French city Nice, Mr. Medecin headed a delegation that trekked recently to Silicon Valley for the somewhat Quixotic purpose of enticing high-technology firms to turn in the concrete orchards of Santa Clara for the internationally renowned delights of the ''Cote-D'Azur, French Riviera.''

There is more to the Riviera than just tourism, Medecin told 50-odd representatives from Bay Area companies who came to hear the unusual spiel.

''Many European companies stayed in the comfort of their traditions,'' Medecin explains, but my region decided to go into the 21st century.''

Medecin claims that as long as 20 years ago, the leaders of the Riviera decided the future lay in high technology and planned accordingly.

He says their anticipation of a local high-tech building boom, and not just increased tourism, spurred the region to build the second-largest airport in France, upgrade phone and communications systems, and build new highways and a giant office and shopping complex near the airport. A new university founded in Nice now has 20,000 students.

But the centerpiece of the high-tech lure is a 5,600-acre industrial park laid out on a pine-covered plateau near Nice. This park, called Sophia-Antipolis , was designed to be a ''technopolis,'' a place that caters to the technical creativity at the center of high-technology development, say its manager, Christian Cabrol.

Promotional literature reports that Sophia-Antipolis has a good start. A number of European technological companies have moved there including Dow Chemical France.

Dow moved to the area from Paris eight years ago, says Yves Crepet, the company's regional general manager. Calling the move ''a real success story,'' he reports office productivity increased 35 percent in the first year and not a single employee exercized the option to transfer back to Paris.

While Medecin freely admits France doesn't have a good reputation for its business climate, the Riviera, he claims, is different.

Still, the first question put to the delegation was about the French corporate tax rate. After a pause, the answer came back: It is 50 percent, but he adds, it is easy to put together a system to reduce the tax bite.

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