The French Riviera, growing weary of its image as a plush sandbox for the idle rich, is getting down to serious business.
Not content to let tourism remain the dominant financial force in the region, officials from Cote d'Azur Development, the French Riviera economic development agency, have scheduled a six-city U.S. tour--including Newport Beach--to sing the praises of doing business in Southern France.
"Everybody wants companies; it's the future!" said Maureen Bannister, a spokeswoman for the two-year-old nonprofit development corporation, which is headed by the mayor of Nice, Jacques Medecin.
"Up to now, when companies think about opening an office in France, they tend to think of Paris," she said. Then, in reference to the international airport in Nice, Bannister added with a touch of American enthusiasm: "It's so damn convenient. You can go anywhere." Armed with glossy brochures of Nice's half-full, 5,700-acre science and technology park, a Coopers & Lybrand report listing French Riviera tax incentives, and personal testimonials from American companies that already have taken the relocation plunge, the French delegation plans to talk to about 250 companies across the country. The 15 members of the group are scheduled to make stops in Washington, Boston, Denver, Houston, Newport Beach, San Jose and Montreal during the next two weeks.
"It's hard-sell and to the point," Bannister said, describing the brief, 90-minute encounter in each city with representatives of high tech, engineering and computer companies. "Our objective is (to see to it) that the French Riviera is on a company's short list of places they'll consider when moving to Europe."
Bannister said that as a result of the economic development agency's initial tour last September, four companies have expressed an interest in opening offices on the Riviera. She declined to identify those companies but said IBM, Texas Instruments, Digital Equipment Corp. and Dow Chemical are American firms that already have facilities there.
Thierry Martin, general manager of Cote d'Azur Development, said Americans need to know that while tourism remains the region's main activity, the French Riviera is gradually turning to technology.
"In the past 20 years, we have turned the page," Thierry said.
Richard Luehrs, executive director of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that he had not heard about the Sept. 20 conference in his city but said he wasn't surprised that the French delegation chose Newport Beach as one of its stops.
He said: "We would be very naive to think that we are the only game in town, that there aren't forces nationally and internationally that would entice business to move to their locations from the Orange Coast to the Cote d'Azur . . . . That's free enterprise at work."