Antwerp is the home to the most important industrial sector in Flanders: the chemical industry. After Houston, Texas, the port is the largest petrochemical cluster in the world. A second flourishing internationalised industry in the centre of Antwerp – thanks to the city’s strong Jewish and Indian communities – is the diamond trade, which handles 80% of all rough diamonds and half of all cut diamonds.
As Flanders has virtually no natural resources, industry is exlusively focused on processing. In addition to chemicals, construction, and food and drink are particularly important in Flanders. Many people are also employed in the metal sector and car making, which both generate much added value. In addition, strong market positions have been maintained in textiles, including major carpet factories and manufacturers of weaving machines. Growth sectors include the manufacture of computers, metal products, electrical machines, medical equipment, and precision and optical instruments.
Flanders also has a large service sector, which is growing faster than the secondary sector. After the public sector and social profit, the most important service sectors are wholesale & retail, and business services. The later is growing significantly, as is information technology, finance and telecommunications.
As in many other European countries, in Flanders agriculture accounts for only a small proportion of GDP. Flanders has the lowest percentage of agriculturalists in the EU, although productive businesses accounting practices ensure that farmers generated some of the highest added value per hectare in the union. Flemish agriculture focuses exclusively on high quality production and prides itself on highly developed food safety, tracing and comprehensive quality control.
Flanders is developing several clusters, as well as centres of excellence, in the knowledge based economy to build the bridge between innovation and economic practice. These new structures should also help reorient the region’s knowledge-based economy from current price-related competition to quality-related competition.
Highly innovative steps have been taken in virtually every branch of life sciences. Flanders has a flourishing pharmaceutical industry, is a world leader in medical imaging and has made several breakthroughs in biotechnology in the last fifteen years. The sector can rely on more than sixty research groups in the Flemish Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) to support research.
More than 2000 experts have produced some highly innovative work in digital signal processing (DSP), specifically navigation and communication technology. Here too, there are close ties with universities and university spin-offs like IMEC, Europe’s largest independent research centre for micro-electronics and nanotechnology.
The same research centre clustering and support is seen in numerous other sectors, such as logistics (Flanders Institute for Logistics), graphic communication (Flemish Innovation Centre for Graphic Communication), multimedia (Expertise Centre for Digital Media), food (Food for the Future Research Centre), chemical, telecommunications (including solid data protection know-how) and automotive (Flanders Drive Engineering Centre).