After the recent bankruptcies of store chains like V&D and Perry Sport, we were wondering in what way such events affected the strategy and decision-making processes at local municipalities. Whilst investigating this matter, we came in contact with Pepijn Bos (Policy developer Economy & Labor Market) and Michiel van Hoof (Strategic account manager City Centre & Spoorzone), both working at the municipality in Tilburg. They have been so kind to make time for us, and offered us a taste of what’s brewing in Tilburg’s city centre.
At first glance, the city centre of Tilburg seems to be pleasantly crowded, especially in the weekends. However, this is not to be taken for granted: a lot of thought and planning is required in order to keep Tilburg attractive to its inhabitants, entrepreneurs, owners of real estate also from outside Tilburg. When we asked about the recent trend of bankruptcies that have had a significant impact on the city centre, Michiel told us that there were two ways of looking at this problem: from a local viewpoint, and from a national stance. From a local point of view, the most critical matter is the prominent location of shops like the V&D. When looking at the bigger picture, policy makers cannot deny that abandoned shop-premises are of growing concern all over the Netherlands. This is an indication that we have reached a critical point in the retail industry. Because people are more and more inclined to do their shopping online, physical retailers are struggling with decreasing sales. Whereas before, people used to go to the city centre to a greater extent for shopping purposes, the most recent trends demonstrate that nowadays, visitors of the city centre are looking for a different experience. Within this experience, the city centre is to a greater extent functioning as a meeting point for visitors, where the catering industry is becoming an increasingly important factor. Tilburg has tried to play into this trend by for example the developing and investing in the Spoorzone and especially the Piushaven.
As many of you undoubtedly have noticed in the last months, the municipality of Tilburg has been very active in reorganizing the city centre. For example, (local) newspapers have reported the commitment of Primark to open up a department in the city centre of Tilburg, and the work around the railway station is nearly completed. However, processes like these are far from problem-free: because most of the property in the city centre is privately owned, the municipality is depending on the cooperation of several parties when trying to deal with vacant retail premises. This means that the municipality can only be involved in an advisory role, by for example working together with different stakeholders in order to redevelop the city centre. The municipality is thus more flexible and open to make exceptions in the development plan of the city centre, when certain proposal is likely to have an added value. Additionally, the municipality of Tilburg and City Marketing have been busy with attracting new entrepreneurs by using a bid book (a book which contains all relevant information about what Tilburg has to offer).
Spoorzone, Piushaven and the City centre
The recent developments around the train station of Tilburg have probably caught the attention of most of you in the last year. Especially the progress that has been made in the Spoorzone is showing off: events like the Foodtruck Festival and Mundial have been successfully organized at this new location. This is all part of the overall plan for the integration of three areas in the city centre of Tilburg: the Spoorzone, Piushaven and the traditional city centre. The municipality is working hard to improve the connections between these zones, in order to create a more integrated and attractive area. This is achieved by for example the new passage that connects the Spoorzone to the rest of the city. Each area has its own function: the traditional city centre will focus on a complete shopping experience, whereas the Spoorzone will integrate the food service industry, such as a brewery and restaurants, with work facilities and related initiatives like Seats2meet. The Piushaven-area will be mainly about the food service industry at shores of the Wilhelmina channel.
In the future, Michiel and his colleagues would like to achieve a higher level of integration between these areas, and other representative parts of Tilburg like the Textielmuseum and museum De Pont, for example by making use of smart signage. Additionally, they are working hard to create a more attractive image for Tilburg, especially concerning nearby, rival cities like Eindhoven, Den Bosch and Breda. In this way, they try to attract more visitors from outside of Tilburg.
Urban Economy and the local labour market
At the moment, the municipality of Tilburg is also very actively involved with the local economy and labour market. This can be evidenced by the fact that an increasing number of well-known (and sometimes foreign), booming companies have recently decided to establish one of their branches in the Tilburg area. In the past years, for example Coolblue, Fuji and Tesla have opened factories and distribution centres near Tilburg. These developments fit perfectly with the long-term strategy that is being implemented at the moment: the municipality is trying to be flexible towards these firms and is investing in order to make the area around Tilburg an attractive spot for such companies. In this light, he mentioned several projects that Tilburg has been actively investing in with the help of several partners such as the GVT Logistics Group. For example, the existing Rail terminal, just outside the city centre of Tilburg, has been updated with electrified rails that allow bigger, heavier and faster freight trains to travel to and from Tilburg. This new railway provides a direct connection with China, and allows trains to reach Chengdu within 12 days, whereas a cargo ship would take up to 60 days to reach such a destination. Additionally, the Wilhelmina channel is going to be deepened, which allows bigger ships to use the inland waterways that cross Tilburg.
Furthermore, Pepijn mentioned that the logistics sector in Tilburg is relatively large, but that it has proven to be difficult to match current students and graduates from for example Tilburg University with job openings at companies in the area. However, the municipality is working actively on this issue: they are preparing to establish a platform that will help link students and graduates to the companies that are active in the flourishing logistics sector in Tilburg, with the help of the Logistiek Midden Brabant (LMB). This project, which is called Logistic Student Match, is expected to bring results in the short run by providing students with an incentive to start their working life in and around Tilburg.
For the longer term, Pepijn and his colleagues will follow upon the path that has been set in the past years, by continuing to invest in the infrastructure and facilities in Tilburg. They strive to make Tilburg an increasingly attractive habitat for entrepreneurs and established companies from the Netherlands and abroad. Additionally, the municipality will be more actively involved in the labour market, by cooperating more closely with companies, unions like the LMB and educational institutes to aid in the matching between potential candidates and suitable jobs. Additionally, they have set goals to attract and retain talented students from local schools (of course including Tilburg University), in order to grow existing businesses and remain competitive in the area. In this way, they would like to promote Tilburg as a central and important link in a logistics network that is increasingly globalizing.