WALES has joined the list of contenders for new plants established by non-European companies that want access to the European Community market. At the end of 1992, the 12-nation EC will become a unified market in which EC-produced goods will receive preference. ``There is enormous competition among our member states for foreign investment,'' a staff member of the Washington-based Delegation of the Commission of the European Communities says.
Wales promotes itself as a low-cost entry into the EC's market of 320 people. ``We offer the benefits of being in Europe,'' says Gwyn Jones, chairman of the Welsh Development Agency.
``We speak English, our common law system is compatible, and we do more single union and non-union deals than any other country in Europe. That's very attractive to international firms,'' Mr. Jones says.
The advantages of Wales according to the EC Commission staff member, are indeed rivaled by neighboring countries.
Next door, Ireland has attracted more than 300 US firms with a collective investment of $6 billion. It has created jobs for 6 percent of the total work force. Like Wales, Ireland has suffered from severe unemployment and emigration.
But given Wales' limited economic base just five years ago, it seems to have made marked strides. By luring foreign investors to an economy known for coal and steel production, the region has gone from depressed to developed.
Since 1976 Wales has created 50,000 new jobs. Out of Wales' 2.8 million people, 1.1 million are working part or full time.
Unemployment registered 17 percent four to five years ago, according to government statistics. Since then, Wales has broadened its economy and stemmed the flow of educated people emigrating. ``Unemployment has fallen 45 months in a row. Currently it's at 6.4 percent. Our rate is lower than France's and Germany's,'' Jones says.
Until recently, half of the Welsh working population was employed in coal and steel, Jones says. ``Today it's less than 2 percent.'' Much of that attrition has been due to layoffs in the suffering industries, he acknowledges.
``But big industry does mean new investment,'' he says, ``and new investment means more jobs.'' Foreign companies have invested $3.4 billion in new enterprises.
From 1988 to 1989, the Welsh Development Agency has secured 98 investment projects, worth $1.87 billion. That is 22 percent of the total offshore investments made in the United Kingdom, Jones says. These investments have created 14,000 jobs.
More than half of foreign investments generated by the Welsh Development Agency are North American. They range from Continental Can Company to Rothschilds Financial Services. The Kellogg Company manufactures food products in Wales. Maytag Corporation produces washing machines and dryers there. Texaco Inc., Amoco Corporation, and Chevron Corporation all have refineries in Wales.
With 35 Japanese firms in Wales, Jones says the region boasts the largest concentration of Japanese manufacturing investments in Europe. ``We've made investments in education to improve [Welsh-Japanese] links,'' says Jones. ``Our university at Cardiff has the first department in Europe devoted to the study of the Japanese language and law. Japanese is widely taught in Welsh junior high. And the most popular subject in South Wales is business studies.''