Eindhoven Skyline

Central to Eindhoven’s strategic approach for staying competitive and at the same time inclusive and liveable in a globalized world is winning the “war for talent.” A talk with Peter Kentie, managing director for “Eindhoven365” as Eindhoven’s unit for strategic city marketing is known, outlines why this is important.

“More will be happening in fewer places because cities are occupying an increasingly important position in bringing about economic relevance.”

(From Eindhoven’s strategy for 2016 – 2020)

As emphasized in our previous post on Helsinki’s ‘functional city strategy’, cities face pressure to stay competitive with other cities globally. Management of the Dutch city of Eindhoven is taking a strategic approach with a focus on the battle for the best talents. For Eindhoven, the strategy is not a strict blueprint but rather a guideline that won’t inhibit laissez-faire flexibility. The strategy allows making choices about what the city wants to focus on and put energy into, but also allows for changes in focus in an ever-changing world – a strategy that is strict yet flexible.

“We urgently need an influx from the outside.”

(From Eindhoven’s strategy for 2016 – 2020)

Eindhoven is the fifth-largest city in the Netherlands, has nearly 240,000 inhabitants. Characterized by a knowledge and high-tech driven environment, Eindhoven must attract the best talent. To meet that goal, city management is convinced:

  1. Eindhoven must be able to improve the quality of public spaces, cultural activities, stores, leisure time, the hotel, restaurant, and catering industries and entrepreneurship to an international level.
  2. Eindhoven must show its improvements to the world in an inspirational manner, thereby continuing to attract new talent to the area

The idea behind this is that when the city is interesting enough for top talent, businesses and tourism will follow.

“We also identified a Global Citizens movement of up-and-coming generations of young talented people who increasingly regard themselves as globetrotting world citizens.”

(From Eindhoven’s strategy for 2016 – 2020)

A talk on Eindhoven’s strategic approach with Peter Kentie, Managing Director of Eindhoven365

Eindhoven’s strategy was set for the time horizon 2016 – 2020. I talked with Peter Kentie from Eindhoven’s strategic marketing organization, Eindhoven365, about their idea of implementing a strategy that is largely focussed on talent acquisition and how well it succeeded so far.

Here is a summary of the most important issues we discussed:

Which measures did Eindhoven successfully undertake to implement the strategy?

Many organizational units from the city are separated from the municipalities as autonomous organizations increase their ability to act quickly. One of these organizations is Eindohoven365, which deals with strategic marketing. Eindhoven365 started in 2012 with the goal of improving Eindhoven’s image. Eindhoven’s history, during the last few decades, has sometimes been rocky as the city had to cope with a constantly changing economic environment, which meant that a perception improvement was necessary.

Brainport Eindhoven, the innovation region in and around Eindhoven, has been promoted as a cooperation among 21 municipalities, with Eindhoven as the powerhouse. Following the ideas of economist Enrico Moretti, the goal of the Brainport Eindhoven region is to create good-paying jobs in innovative and high-tech industries, which will then lead to more jobs and wage improvements for low-skilled workers.

Eindhoven, like the cities of Helsinki, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, and Austin, has a balance in its city between right brain and left brain thinkers as well as designers. Bringing together creative thinkers and top engineers – it is quite hard to find people who share both capabilities – is thought of as the best way for Eindhoven to foster innovation. Innovation, in turn, can be beneficial as an engine for growth in Eindhoven and, in a broader sense, increase the city’s liveability. For these purposes, to work and to compete in the world league of high tech engineering and manufacturing, Eindhoven needs to compete in the global war for talent to attract the engineers to its city and high tech ecosystem.

Eindhoven’s strengths are affordable housing, an open-minded community where everyone is easily approachable, and its unique, bottom-up developed events such as the Dutch Design Week. Those events create global media impact and also make citizens proud of their city, which then contributes to civic engagement and successful entrepreneurship.


What are the biggest challenges to implementing the strategy?

City officials in Eindhoven joke about policy tourism, the dissemination of ideas of governments and think-tanks, influenced by where they hold their conferences, study tours, and award ceremonies.  For a mid-size city like Eindhoven, it is important to get on the radar of important players.

It is generally a challenge for a city to implement long-term strategies because local politics can often have a short-term focus. You need to achieve a broad consensus among local politicians to set up a consistent long-term strategy which Eindhoven luckily accomplished. This provided the different city working units with crucial planning security.

Apart from that, other cities that mastered challenging transition processes identified best practices. One model of these best practices for Eindhoven was Bonn. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bonn was the capital of (West) Germany. With Berlin once again, the capital of re-united Germany, ministries, policy advisories, and associations have at least partially left Bonn. Much of the cultural life of the city was on the brink. But Bonn managed to stay successful despite this. Key was promotion of their openness and a great European focus in their visual identity.

What are the long-term challenges for Eindhoven?

In the long-term, Eindhoven must keep a balance to offer the citizens all opportunities to make a good living. Maintaining cultural attractiveness is another constant challenge for Eindhoven. As an example, Eindhoven would like to get a national museum – ideally for design. But the central government focusses more on cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague. The quality of the cultural offer is important for the citizens and even more in retaining the global talent base.

Which diplomatic relationships with other cities does Eindhoven maintain?

From the strategic marketing perspective of Eindhoven365, best practice learning is very important. Therefore, going to other cities such as Berlin or Tel Aviv to exchange knowledge is indispensable. Eindhoven is constantly trying to improve in this respect. And Eindhoven shares its strategic choices and challenges with other cities and places to gain mutual values.

What difficulties emerge from the gap between Eindhoven as the largest city in the region and the countryside?

For the region centered around Eindhoven, the gap that exists between people from the countryside and people from the city is not an issue as it is in other areas around the world. The Brainport Eindhoven ecosystem includes rural municipalities and places focussed on quality housing and leisure offerings. Yet, they all share the same innovation-driven approach. The city is widely recognized as the powerhouse, and people are aware of the positive spill-over effects coming from Eindhoven.