“In Flanders, the appetite for investment is bigger than it was in 2007, the year before the crisis broke out,” says Eric Van den Broele, senior manager Research and Development at Graydon. “That’s true of all sectors. On the other hand, SMEs are hoarding huge sums of money. Money that they would do better to put to work by investing it or taking out it of the business and doing something with it. There is still a lot of unused potential.”
Danny Van Assche, who succeeded Karel Van Eetvelt as head of UNIZO, the Union for Independent Entrepreneurs, agrees. “It’s about cashing in on the readiness to invest and pushing it further. The government needs to set an example and keep investing in infrastructure, for instance by tackling the mobility problem.”>
At national level, just 10 % of SMEs are ailing: half as many as in the year 2000. The vast majority are reasonably to very healthy in financial terms. The scenario in Brussels is not as rosy: there 22 % of companies are still in the financial danger zone.
“Those who want to finance their investments partly with their own assets and partly with borrowed capital need to seize the opportunity quickly,” Van Assche goes on. “The interest rate is at a record low level, but that could change fast. So it has to be done now.”
From 1 September 2019, those wishing to start their own business will no longer need the business management certificate. UNIZO warns that alternatives will have to be found, so that SMEs can remain financially healthy in the future.
“Entrepreneurs have to improve their financial skills through training and coaching,” Van Assche says. “They need this to further boost their profitability. Of course, the level of the training courses must be higher than that which is expected via the business management certificate now. As an employers’ organization, we want to play an active role here.”
Many sectors are still having difficulty finding suitable workers. This curbs companies’ readiness to invest. Measures are needed to fill the existing job vacancies better. In the horeca sector, for example, there is pressure almost across the board, including for jobs that do not require long or difficult training.
“There is a reluctance to invest fully if you can’t find people to fill the jobs you create as a result.” Van Assche concludes.
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