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High technology heads for Wales

U.S. companies find it key to European markets

Wales has evolved with the changing global economy

By Vaughn Mulder

With accelerating growth within the hi-tech industry, savvy executives are thinking global now and looking to Europe for expertise and other benefits in their quests for a worldwide presence. Their reason for choosing Europe is obvious: The European market is as large as the US and Japanese markets combined. Furthermore, the European market is home to 400 million consumers, and is the largest trading group in the world. In addition, advanced consumer electronics is a dynamic growth sector. With such opportunities, it is not surprising that companies such as Motorola, AT & T;, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Sony have chosen to locate here. However, deciding on an expansion or relocation site in Europe can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are economic development agencies that can assist in this task.

Over the past three decades, Wales has evolved with the changing global economy and has surfaced as a focal point for high-technology companies looking to invest in Europe. Wales enjoys a lucrative base of high-technology companies from industry sectors such as semiconductor and electronics to automotive parts and medicine. With an established foundation of high-technology, the region continues to attract inward investments from North American companies as well as from other parts of the globe.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the Welsh Development Agency (WDA). The WDA is an economic development agency that attracts companies to Wales through benefit packages and other need fulfillments. The attractions of Wales are many. Wales offers an electronics infrastructure, avoidance of EU tariffs, access to the 400 million potential consumer markets, and the support of an ongoing pro-business government. For U.S. high-technology companies, there are also some benefits of circumstance.

For example, an existing commonality of languages makes it easier for a U.S. office to communicate with their Cardiff, Wales office, as opposed to a German or Chinese office. Benefits such as these create a symbiotic relationship between Wales and an American investor. While Wales helps promote wealth creation for its population, investors get the luxury of doing business in an established high-technology region that allows them to access European markets, save on the cost of doing business, and realize other benefits.

Available work force

A key benefit that sets Wales apart from many other regions is a readily-available, highly-skilled work force. The University of Wales, the second largest university in the United Kingdom, and other nearby universities, produce a pool of 15,000 graduates annually in electronics and engineering-related fields. The large pool of qualified workers, low cost-of-living, and combination of high productivity and competitive wages makes Wales the lowest-cost manufacturing region in the United Kingdom.

Business infrastructure

The WDA has an impressive inventory — more than 600,000 square meters — of property throughout Wales. In many cases, a company looking for a fast start-up can choose from among the many facilities already built rather than make a greenfield investment. For those companies with a more customized need, the WDA’s project management service can oversee the customer-designed construction process.


The sophisticated telecommunications network of Wales is one of the most efficient in the world and is comparable to any network or service provision in Europe. Offered here are advanced broad-band telecommunications including ISDN and SMDS amongst others, a digital cellular network, advanced data and video communications, and a fast developing multi-media infrastructure.


Ground, air and sea transport to regional and international destinations are readily available in Wales. These include:. Strategic motorway and expressway links with the UK, including the M4 Corridor, a bordering motorway, runs westward form London into many major high-technology areas of Wales including Newport, Cardiff, Swansena and Carmarthen. Advanced passenger and rail freight network direct to Europe via the channel tunnel. An international airport at Cardiff providing easy access to major UK and European airports including Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels. Eight sea ports including Cardiff, Milford Haven, Fishguard and Holyhead.

On-Going support

Success in offshore investments often requires more than labor and infrastructure. The WDA offers companies a number of benefits not found in many other development agencies. Some of them include on-going training, development of local sourcing arrangements, continued financial support for expansion projects, and support of an academic and R & D; infrastructure.

Added-value programs such as the Post-care Program are what give the WDA an edge over other regions and drive investors to reinvest in Wales. In fact, 65 percent of companies that invest in Wales reinvest.One such example is Los Angeles based Align-Rite International, Inc.

Los Angeles-based Align-Rite International, Inc. Partners with the WDA

In October, 1996, Align-Rite, based in Los Angeles and the third largest independent manufacturer of photomasks in the U.S. and Europe, announced its intention to invest $20 million to expand its photomask manufacturing facilities in Bridgend, Wales.

To help make the expansion possible, the WDA secured significant government grant awards for use in the construction project. Align-Rite and the WDA’s partnership efforts turned out a new building, housing state-of-the-art equipment and ISO 9002 certified high-tech clean room additions. Manufacturing capacity was increased by more than 40 percent.

Quality of life in Wales

Another California based company, Newport Wafer-Fab Limited (NWL), recently announced a ?230 million expansion project over the next five years to build one of most advanced silicon wafer manufacturing facilities in Europe. It will have the capacity to produce upwards of 12,000 silicon wafers per month. The company offers six and eight inch wafers with a variety of CMOS and customer specific process technologies. In 1998, with the opening of the new facility, NWL will offer 0.35 micron production capabilities. The existing facility employees 500 and the expansion will create 700 new jobs. The WDA partnered with Newport Wafer-Fab in its investment to assist in the building and fitting of the 20,000 square meter facility.

WDA offers companies such as the Korean LG Group, Modis Training Technologies, Inc., and hundreds others already doing business in Wales, opportunities unlike other regions. Often forgotten are benefits such as a friendly environment and key tourist attractions providing a lifestyle that enhances the attraction to Wales. The people of Wales enjoy an abundance of land in protected national parks, sports activities including a high proportion of golf courses to population, and competitively priced, affordable housing. Wales prides itself on not only providing companies with the tools to operate a successful business, but in having an environment suitable for many lifestyles when business is done.

Vaughn Mulder is vice president of the Welsh Development Agency. Companies interested in learning more about investing in Wales can contact the Welsh Development Agency at 415.854.8042 or log onto their web site at http://www.wda.co.uk.

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