Plans in the making for a New Limburg

22nd April 2013, Comments 0 comments

An extended group of Flemish ministers and Limburg politicians and social partners met yesterday to consult about the implementation of the Salk plan, the acronym for Strategisch Actieplan Limburg in het Kwadraat, that will finance the second round of state-financed reconversion of the Limburg province. The first one was launched during the closure of coal mines in the province about 25 years ago. Salk is aimed to help absorb the damage and job losses caused by the Ford Genk closure. An estimated 4 000 to 5 000 new jobs have been promised in the short term, with the number doubling in the long term as a result of various subsidized projects. At this stage it is already clear, however, that the ‘planned economy’ has limitations and that it will only be able to deliver if the global economy picks up. So far financing has been secured from the Flemish government, the existing Limburg investment company LRM and the 57 million euros which the Flemish government earlier earmarked to support Ford Genk. Local authorities will also contribute and with Europe’s 66 million the total Salk budget currently stands at 317 million euros. The policymakers have until mid-May to finalise their plans and indicate which projects are to receive top priority. The group of twelve experts led by professor Herman Daems earlier this year, highlighted the province’s economic strong and weak points and drafted plans for the new reconversion. They recommended increased focus on innovation and exports, improved business financing, more professional training and bigger infrastructure projects. This team has meanwhile served their purpose to make way for policitians and social partners with their Taskforce Limburg led by the Flemish and provincial governments. It will come as no surprise if the two Limburg natives in the Flemish government, Ingrid Lieten SP.A and Jo Vandeurzen CD&V, deal the cards as both have said they are calling on Brussels as voice for Limburg and vice versa. The Limburg investment company and LRM manager Stijn Bijnens will undoubtedly play a major role and it is no coincidence, as the LRM has already invested 200 million euros in risk capital in about 80 businesses and projects, which will see their share in the local economy increase by half. It remains to be seen if they will be in a position to manage this increase, with many businesses suspicious about the politicians’ role in the developments. Urbain Vandeurzen, one of the province’s top entrepreneurs and a member of the Salk expert team, has called on them to remember the local businesses, saying: “The local entrepreneurs must be mobilized and motivated. Compare Ford’s exit with a football team that has lost its major foreign players and must now look at its own young players to make things happen.”

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