Companies of Excellence 2018

Written by the Online Editor on . Posted in Top 10 Business Destinations

As autumn begins, the eurozone economy continues to strengthens. With company budgets getting bigger and staff incentive programmes again growing in popularity, we see a steady increase in demand for business and incentive travel. Incentive travel is among the best ways of rewarding employees. This type of non-cash incentive places values on the effort and task performance of a company’s employees, who feel motivated and rewarded by the experience.

With business executives bullish about the global outlook, foreign direct investment (FDI) is set to increase in the next year. There are plenty of opportunities for those who have the foresight to find where the potential lies. FDI brings in capital, technical know-how, organisational, managerial and marketing practices and global production networks, facilitating the process of economic growth and development in various measures to ensure an enabling environment.

Here, CEO Insight looks at the hotspot destinations to help grow your business, inspire your workforce and build your brand. The locations profiled below are among the best at attracting FDI and hosting MICE events. They score highly in terms of economic fundamentals, lowering regulatory barriers, ease of doing business, regulatory quality, rule of law and quality of life. They are also the leaders in organising and supplying meetings, conferences, exhibitions and other related events held to achieve a range of professional, business, cultural or academic objectives.

1 Lisbon
Thanks to young creatives reinforcing the tech start-up scene, Lisbon is the cosmopolitan place to be in 2018. Around 40% of the founders of Start-up Lisboa come from abroad, and young professionals from all over Europe are drawn to Lisbon to live, work and party, everyone is upping sticks to the new capital of cool. Even Madonna has put her roots and money into Portugal. Lisbon promotes an enviable can-do entrepreneurial spirit and lays claim to the most exciting creative scene in mainland Europe right now.

Undervalue Western Europe's oldest city at your peril. All this regeneration is great news for the economy, but comes at what cost? More and more people are discovering the benefits of freelancing across Europe, with numbers rising from 7.7 to 9.6 million between 2008 and 2015. While previously the majority of start-ups veered towards London, where a combination of British creativity and government funding promoted an active start up scene, Lisbon is now officially the best place to live if you are a freelancer.

The Portuguese capital enjoys great weather throughout the year with some of the best beaches in Europe, English is commonly spoken and excellent infrastructure allows the city to function well. Combine history and modernity with some of the most affordable prices in Europe and it’s no surprise that this location is experiencing such a revival.

"The recent wave of modern, avant-garde projects may add an exciting element to this 760-year-old metropolis."

This has not always been the case in a country long beset with a stagnant market and a stressed out banking industry. Portugal’s economy has had a turbulent few years to say the least and the country has struggled under the weight of austerity. Tourism alone wasn’t enough to save the economy and for a long time it appeared to be a seasonal issue, confined to summers in the Algarve.

However, this hardship has generated innovation and currently the country, especially its capital city, seems to be fighting fit. For the artistic nomads, the universal creative class and those priced out elsewhere, Lisbon’s appeal and attraction is palpable.

The capital is looking to other hot spots like London to see and understand what worked there. For example, Village Underground, ‘part creative community, part arts venue’, proposes to merge low-cost workspaces with art, music and performance.

In London it’s a prominent venue -four recycled Tube carriages suspended in the air. Lisbon did it a little differently, with a stack of shipping containers and buses located next to the city’s suspension bridge. Also, Spanish studio SelgasCano converted part of Lisbon's oldest food market into a co-working space for Second Home, one of the greenest buildings in Europe. Fitted out with curving shared tables, mid-century chairs and over 1,000 pot plants and trees, the 1,115-sqm office is open plan, encouraging collaboration and highlighting the columns and the iron windows of the historic market hall.

The recent wave of modern, avant-garde projects may add an exciting element to this 760 year old metropolis. These trendy new developments are held in deep contrast to the winding alleys of the old town, mysterious hilltop castles, medieval architecture, palace hotels and classic cuisine synonymous with old-school Lisbon. While the older elements are a refreshing antidote to the shipping-container art galleries and high-concept pop-up restaurants, an amalgamation of the two styles balance perfectly.

"European investors are now looking to Lisbon to take advantage of the low rents and economical IT talent."

The old and the new are thoughtfully blended and have become a godsend for young creatives that may be forced to leave a post Brexit Britain. Lisbon’s refreshing response to the economic crisis was one of the first signposts that there was something innovative and unique to this city and people are increasingly congregating to this warm, sunny and affordable part of Western Europe.

The pro-enterprise socialist government promised economic growth alongside relief from austerity. António Costa, the former mayor of Lisbon and current prime minister of Portugal, is nurturing entrepreneurship and science, making it easier to open businesses in renowned buildings. Start-up Lisboa supports the creation of companies and track their first years of activity and in 2015, Lisbon became the first city to receive the European Entrepreneurial Region award.

The city’s recovery has further been facilitated by certain incentives, possibly more capitalist than socialist, such as the Golden Visa, which offers residency rights to anyone buying property worth at least €500,000. Concerns around initiatives like this include the worry that it suggests that money buys you the right to be there. Additionally, many companies and individuals, especially the highly-taxed French, are lured in by the favourable tax regime.

Locals may be relieved to see the centre of their city come alive again with more service-sector jobs, and may welcome the new vitality that the city is experiencing. European investors are now looking to Lisbon to take advantage of the low rents and economical IT talent.

Nonetheless, as affordability for citizens becomes a serious problem, with tourism-triggered evictions prevalent, it is unclear whether being priced out of the heart of their own city by global buyers will leave a bad taste in their mouth. Lisbon is rocketing through the classic gentrification process - dilapidation, artistic renewal, innovative, entrepreneurial action and increasing prices, and with this comes some disadvantages.

Present-day Lisbon offers a medley of history and nature combined with innovative ideas and dreams of both natives and foreigners. There is no doubt that Lisbon is in the midst of a major moment, and only time will tell if the city is on the brink of losing its identity and forgetting what made it exciting in the first place. Let’s hope it can learn from other cities in transition and hold onto what initially made it great.

2 Iceland 
Iceland, the Scandinavian island nation of approximately 330,000 people, offers English-speaking manpower, a positive economic environment, a strong export industry and up-to-date infrastructure. The island offers good quality of life, with a modern, growing, internationally competitive economy. The IMF forecasts Iceland’s GDP growth to be the highest in Europe in 2017. The removal of capital controls has made Icelandic assets more attractive for foreign groups, improving prospects for inward FDI. The economy is being restored by tourism, with foreign travellers increasing by 40% in 2016 and the Keflavík airport authority forecasting additional 27% growth in 2017. Iceland also affords an abundance of sustainable energy from hydro and geothermal resources, making it an attractive country for the chemical and energy industries. No matter what sector you are in, Iceland offers a European legislative framework, a highly skilled workforce and excellent quality of life. For more information, visit Invest in Iceland ( and Meet in Reykjavik, the official convention bureau for Reykjavik (

3 Russia 
Russia is traditionally seen as an enigmatic country, and in recent years popular destinations like St. Petersburg and Moscow have enjoyed a significant increase in tourists looking to uncover the enigma. Both cities also provide a marvellous stage for any conference. The MICE business in Russia is expanding fast, and the cultural centre of St. Petersburg offers much more than just the Hermitage Museum and Kirov Ballet. The city will host the FIFA World Cup next year, and the Russian government has set hotel price limits to inhibit inflated prices. St. Petersburg has been named ‘Europe’s Leading Destination’ for the 2nd year running by the World Travel Awards. Destination and event management company Galaktika offers some of the most exclusive and prestigious MICE facilities, providing a committed and professional team to ensure events incorporates the latest best practice. Moscow event locations are as exquisite as the city itself, and trade fairs and business conventions held in Moscow and St. Petersburg draw people from all over the world. This exposure, alongside their seven and three million economically active population respectively, can generate fantastic publicity for a brand.

4 Jersey
Jersey is close to the leading global financial centre of the City of London. It is in the Greenwich time-zone that overlaps the American and Asia-Pacific timezones, thus linking it with most of the other global financial centres. Its assets include a native English-speaking labour force, sophisticated information and communications technology infrastructure and good air connections to the UK and other European destinations. Jersey is in a currency union with the UK. Sterling is a major and stable currency, enabling investors to operate in a relatively risk-free financial environment. Jersey also enjoys full fiscal autonomy and has favourable low tax rates. It is well-known for its stable, predictable and consistent policy regime. Its common-law framework enables the establishment of investment vehicles which are attractive to investors.


5 Scotland
Scotland achieved record-breaking levels of inward investment in 2016 and Glasgow, the largest city region in Scotland, has launched a plan to attract one million more visitors and become the most productive major city economy in the UK by 2023. An exciting city with great facilities for businesses and well connected to the global market; Glasgow is a major player on the international stage. In recent years Glasgow has received recognition as one of Europe’s top locations for setting up a business and the city is one of the most progressive locations in the UK, committed to innovation and economic growth. The Lonely Planet describes the city as a ‘shopaholic’s paradise’ and it is classified as the number one UK retail destination outside of London’s West End. The capital is renowned as the friendliest city in the world, ranked in the top ten global cities for FDI and named in Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, amongst other awards. Whilst Glasgow is globally celebrated as a lively city of culture and the arts, retail and architectural brilliance, it is also a city of science, with the University of Glasgow having opened its new £32 million Imaging Centre of Excellence in March 2017.

6 Dubai
Recent decades have witnessed incredible growth throughout all sectors of the Dubai economy. The emirate’s government is constantly working to improve its commercial transparency and introduce dynamic regulations that aid the formation of small and medium enterprises. Dubai’s economy is no longer reliant on oil but is more diversified, relying heavily on trade, services and finance sectors. With its central geographic location between Asian and European markets, Dubai has worked hard to establish itself as an integral part of the global trade mechanism. There are numerous existing free trade zones in that provide industry-specific market infrastructure and tax incentives, including exemption from corporate taxes for 15 years or more, 100% foreign ownership, no personal income taxes, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, and no minimum capital investment. The UAE was ranked as the country with the best quality of life in the MENA region, and 15th in the world out of 160 countries. In addition to its strong infrastructure of telecommunications, roads and airports, it has numerous consumer and recreational facilities, a good infrastructure and a safe, virtually crime-free, tolerant society. Major multinational companies with offices located in Dubai include Microsoft, Nokia, Sony, Boeing, HSBC, Shell, Adidas and BBC World.

7 Germany
The world's leading advanced manufacturing location, Germany continues to attract investors seeking a secure, rewarding climate. Among the country's strengths are its very high and powerful industrial network, a highly skilled workforce with a good command of English, a reliable infrastructure, a favourable social climate, a stable legal framework and a location in the heart of Europe. Germany has the biggest population in the EU and competitive tax rates, offering attractive incentives to all investors. A comprehensive range of programmes support the broad spectrum of business activities at all stages of the investment process. Far-reaching reform of corporate taxation is helping companies invest and secure new business. The Federal Government’s raft of reforms to improve the general tax framework and keep indirect labour costs down is opening doors of opportunity to ever more investors. Support ranges from cash incentives for the reimbursement of direct investment costs to incentives for labour and R&D. Germany is a modern, tolerant, and cosmopolitan society with an excellent standard of living, superior health and education provision, and endless opportunities for sports and recreation.

8 Greenland
The main source of power in Greenland is hydroelectricity, which has the capacity to be developed to facilitate large mining operations. The potential for mining in Greenland is huge. Two mines are expected to be online by the end of 2017, and seven others are within reach of being licenced to drill. Greenland aims to make petroleum and mineral resources one of its primary industries, providing new opportunities for the oil and minerals exploration industry backed up by an ample workforce and infrastructure. Among the companies operating in Greenland is Greenland Minerals and Energy, which focuses on the Kvanefjeld multi-element project through the feasibility phase and into mine development. Ideally located in South Greenland, Kvanefjeld has direct shipping access all year round. This differs from many other emerging REE projects in that it is a multi-commodity project that is anticipated to also produce uranium and zinc. Based in the Fossilik area, North American Nickel engages in activities such as drilling, prospecting, surface sampling and ground geophysical surveys. NAN has been successful in continuing its extensive exploration over a large area for Ni sulphides in the Maniitsoq region of West Greenland.

9 Dublin
Nearly 200,000 people are employed by international companies in Ireland, according to the 2016 annual report from IDA Ireland. These numbers are testament to the quality that the country offers, highlighting again how the emerald isle is investment worthy in 2017. Dublin Port is located in the heart of Ireland’s capital city and provides a gateway to Europe. Current projects underway will transform the port’s ability to handle larger ships and the increased trade volumes expected as Irelands economy returns to full health. Dublin Port Company develops, manages, controls and operates the Dublin Port and has prepared a masterplan to guide its development until 2040, examining how the existing land use can be optimised for merchandise trade purposes. Last year, 113 cruise calls brought approximately 180,000 visitors to the capital. Next year, over 14,000 travellers are expected to start their cruise holiday from Dublin as part of the Celebrity Cruises investment in the Port. Continued investment looks likely as Dublin Port Company’s track record of backing key projects offers a degree of certainty regarding future developments, allowing investors to plan accordingly. Designs to create new pedestrian entry points to soften and enliven the Port’s boundaries with the City are already afoot and hope to be completed by September 2017.

10 Stockholm
It may only be the size of North Carolina, but Sweden offers big promises and serves as a gateway to the EU with 500m consumers. Sweden has long had a socialist government, and workers benefit from subsidised education and health care, resulting in an academically accomplished and physically fit population. Sweden’s economy, industry and start-ups are experiencing notable growth. Leading industrial sectors include cleantech, life sciences and ICT. With Spotify, King, Truecaller, Klarna and Mojang calling Stockholm home, the capital is behind only Silicon Valley as a start-up ecosystem. Though Swedes may not like to brag, their capital city is a great place to set up business. This is reflected in the 12% increase in foreign investment in the Stockholm Region from 2015–2016 and the city’s second place ranking for fast-growing companies, according to 2017’s Inc. 5000 Europe. More than 15 new life science companies were formed every year during the last decade, on par with life science regions such as Boston. A goal to be CO2 free by 2050 opens up endless possibilities for the green and renewable energy sector. For more information, visit, a one-stop shop for investors looking into Sweden and emerging energy-intensive industries.