Interview with Dr. Christoph Leitl, President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO – Wirtschaftskammer Oesterreich)
What is the role and main task of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber?
We are both, a service provider as well as a lobbying organization for Austrian businesses. As a service provider we inform, advise, train and support our members so they can make best use of business opportunities and can better manage all aspects of their company, its development, and its potential.
As a lobbying organization the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber represents the interest of its 400.000 member companies vis-à-vis the government on the national, regional and European level. We also represent the businesses sector in collective bargaining with unions.
How do you assist your members to grow locally and internationally?
Through our offices on the regional and subregional level and through our rather comprehensive website and sector-specific media we provide information and advisory services to members on many issues, e.g. taxation, labor law, industry-specific legislation, industry-wide advertising, and market research.
We also provide vocational training in Austria to more than 350.000 people, employees and entrepreneurs alike, attending more than 31.000 training seminars and courses every year. We support Austrian companies in their international activities at home and through more than 100 field offices around the world – among them an office in Warsaw and a branch-office in Krakow.
We are strong in some respects: Austria is a diversified and innovative high-value-added economy fully integrated into the European economy with many specialized companies successfully serving global niche markets. Austria has out-performed the EU-average for every one of the last 12 years.
Austria has a well-trained work-force and low youth unemployment. Austria affords a good quality of living and a clean environment. The country has an efficient infrastructure and competitive public services. In addition Austria has social peace yet seeks change where change is necessary. There is room for improvement in other areas: Austria needs to work on its competitiveness, our educational system is being overhauled, and demography poses challenges with respect to the availability of skilled labor. Our federal governance system and public administration need to keep pace with the speed and quality of decision-making and policy implementation necessary in a digital global economy.
The Austrian Economy is pretty strong compared to other European countries with very low unemployment. What is the recipe for that success?
Our system of Social Partnership, representing all relevant sectors of our society and economy plays an important role. It allows us to takes the lead in inducing viable change, yet provides security in stable but performing institutions. Our apprenticeship system is another element: it provides for a managed transition of the young into a real-life work environment. It ensures that training and skills match the real-world needs of companies and gives the young the certainty, confidence, and opportunity that come with a positive work experience and self-earned income.
The structure of our economy with many small and medium-sized companies favours retention of workers while a measure of flexibility in the rules governing employment allow for necessary adjustments if necessary. Our companies have learned in earlier business cycles that hire-and-fire makes it difficult to benefit from an up-turn because qualified workers cannot be found quickly enough. Diversification and integration into the European economy are two other important factors. Even at the bottom of the business cycle there are businesses that do well.
Why is Austria an attractive place to locate and run a company?
I have already mentioned some strengths. Access to finance at good terms, a central geographic location with excellent access to a good part of Europe, and an attractive tax regime are three others. The same is true for the healthy environment and cultural appeal. I just might add that we are serious about qualification, innovation and internationalization and that the public administration and the Austrian Federal Economic chamber support companies in identifying and realizing new business potential. We work together in keeping Austria an attractive business location.
6. Do Austrian companies go global ? Please give us some examples ?
Yes, 40.000 do. 10 % of all Austrian companies are internationally active. We supports them in their efforts to sell, source and invest internationally. Quite a few are global technology leaders. For example: BLUM whose hinges can be found in households around the world, or PLASSER & THEURER – the yellow track-laying equipment you see along train lines everywhere, or DOPPELMAYER chair lifts, or ISI gas chargers for whipped cream and much – more challenging – airbags, or SKI DATA for access control, or TIGER COATING for powder coatings, or VOITH paper making machines, or PALIFINGER cranes, or ENGEL– the world’s leading injection moulding machine company, or SWAROVSKI crystal, of AVL engine test stands, or RED BULL Bull energy drinks, and many more.