Bad for business?

Athens is good for tourism but not for attracting business, as its distance from Europe’s main hotspots and the activity of relatively few multinational companies render the Greek capital a second-rate choice for expansion. Among the 33 major business centers in Europe, Athens ranks 32nd according to the annual survey by international property consultancy firm Cushman & Wakefield, even though the city staged the Olympic Games successfully two years ago. «Although everyone knows that the image of Athens has improved with the road and transport projects made for the Olympics, which definitely bolstered the name of Athens abroad, the prevailing sense is that Athens may now be a more attractive tourism destination, but not a modern business center,» says Niki Sympoura, head of Cushman & Wakefield’s Greek bureau. The list of the top five business centers in Europe consists of London, Paris, Frankfurt, Barcelona and Brussels, with the Catalan city recording a steep rise since 1990, climbing one more spot from last year at the expense of Brussels, which hosts some of the top EU institutions. The survey assesses the attractiveness of cities through 12 criteria, including transport and telecommunications infrastructures, quality of office spaces, access to strong European markets, availability and cost of trained staff, quality of life, cost of living, the political climate, access to and from the country, languages spoken and pollution. London ranks top in seven out of the 12 criteria, which helps it conquer the top of the list easily for one more year. Athens’s best ranking is its 6th position in the cost of employment criterion. Yet this is not enough to improve the overall picture, proving at the same time that cost-related parameters are not the only guide for businesses. As far as access to other markets and the government climate are concerned, Athens ranks 29th. In quality of life, environment and office space availability, it ranks 30th, in specialized personnel and languages spoken it is 32nd, while in the networks of international and local transport Athens is last. What should also worry competent authorities, and particularly the next mayor of Athens, is the fact that as a business center the Greek capital remains relatively unknown. Only 28 percent of the 507 high-ranking officials of European companies polled answered that they know well or rather well Athens as a business spot, whereas London scores 88 percent, followed by Paris with 80 percent. No more than 3 percent of respondents believe that Athens has made serious efforts to improve its image as a business center. On the contrary, Barcelona, Madrid, Prague and Berlin are considered to be the cities which make the most serious efforts to attract new enterprises. Regarding the companies’ future expansion plans, Paris, London, Barcelona and Madrid come away with the lion’s share, while just 8 percent of firms include Athens.