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West Flemish SME’s are the healthiest

One in every six small or medium business enterprises in Flanders runs an increased risk of liquidation and a limited growth potential. Based on figures released in 2011, this is what the annual small business report compiled by Unizo, the union of independent entrepreneurs, and the trade information office Graydon suggest. There is however a significant difference between the various provinces in the region. Relatively speaking the coastal province of West Flanders, at 12.8%, has the lowest number of businesses with a high risk of liquidation. In Antwerp, the weakest scorer, the figure is 50 percent higher. The same gap between the provinces is visible in respect of small business productivity. West Flemish businesses create the biggest added value per employee, while in Antwerp it is the lowest. When it comes to entrepreneurship, West Flanders once again tops the list with 102 small businesses for every 1 000 residents, outperforming the Flemish average by 13. “The differences can be explained if one looks at the economic fibre. Antwerp has more businesses that are active in the wholesale and industrial sectors,” says Graydon’s Eric Van den Broele. “The image of the typical West Flemish hard worker who only indulges in a holiday once a year and ploughs most of his profits back into his business may be a cliché, but perhaps it does contain some truth.” West Flemish businesses do not score as well as those in East Flanders and Flemish Brabant when it comes to profitability though. Generally speaking, Flemish small businesses did slightly better last year than they did in 2010, but according to Unizo’s Karel Van Eetvelt, the additional income was used mostly to settle debts. Both Unizo and Graydon expect this year and next year to be worse than last year. This is already noticeable in the number of bankruptcies, as this has been a record year with 11 000 liquidations which, according to Graydon, could be as high as 12 500 next year. A survey conducted by the temping office Tempo Team indicates that small business owners in Flanders have little confidence in the future, with one in every four fearing liquidation and half of them admitting to suffering from the crisis. At one in three, businesses seem even more pessimistic about their survival in Wallonia, where 75% admit to being hit hard by the crisis. Most of the respondents seem to believe that things will start improving by 2015.