On 22 March 2022, agricultural equipment multinational CNH Industrial was presented with Flanders Investment & Trade’s Lifetime Achievement Trophy. With roots in the region dating back as far as 1906, investments amounting to hundreds of millions of euros and another huge upgrade of their site in Zedelgem underway, the company behind major agricultural brands Case IH and New Holland Agriculture is a rock in Flanders’ business environment.
CNH Industrial is a manufacturer of agricultural equipment: harvesters, combines and anything else you might need to work the field. Tom Verbaeten, Chief Supply Chain Officer at CNH Industrial: “We want to be a one-stop-shop for our customers, from the smallest item to the biggest machine.”
Listed on the New York stock exchange and with divisions all over the world, CNH Industrial can safely be called an international giant. Many of its sites, including those in Flanders, were acquired over the years. Tom Verbaeten: “Our Zedelgem site, in Flanders, currently houses the global R&D center of excellence for forage harvesters, large square balers and combines. It started in 1906 as a local SME and is still located in the street named after its founder, Leon Claeys.”
“Through the years, the Flanders-based site has expanded tremendously,” Tom Verbaeten continues. “Six years ago, we improved both the engineering labs and the shop floor, enabling us to provide work for 400 engineers today. We also completely revamped our plant layout in 2010, introducing lean concepts. And now, we’re upgrading it again, investing EUR 40 million to keep up with the market demands. We’ll be exploring new energy sources and further automation, while adding an extra 20% of machine capacity.”
Meanwhile, the CNH Industrial site in Antwerp was previously owned by Ford Tractor. Originally a production site for tractors, then tractor drivelines, it is now a component plant that provides parts for its sister plants across the globe.
To provide its end-to-end services, CNH Industrial invests a lot in R&D – not least in Flanders. The region is home to one of the multinational’s centers of excellence for developing new innovations and optimizing existing products. That’s no coincidence! Tom Verbaeten: “Flanders has a unique collaborative ecosystem of universities, incubators, multinationals and start-ups. Paired with the highly skilled work force and well-trained engineers we have here, Zedelgem is a key site for CNH Industrial.”
“The available payroll tax incentives for R&D employees are also a big help: it’s part of the reason why we can keep so many talented engineers in-house,” Tom Verbaeten continues. “And that, in turn, allows us to acquire the most patents of the entire organization year after year.”
Once the innovative products and solutions developed in Flanders are ready to conquer the world, the advantages of the region’s location also become clear. Tom Verbaeten: “Our sites are strategically located close to major ports in the region, mainly the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge. Transporting our combines and harvesters is easiest by ship, and from these ports it’s also cost effective to send them anywhere across the globe, from Italy to Australia. And of course, it’s an equally valuable transport route for resources.”
CNH Industrial is already well established within the corporate and economic landscape of Flanders – but the company is not resting on its laurels. “In the coming years, we are investing over EUR 100 million in both manufacturing and R&D. We’ll be developing new, more automated and autonomous models, aligning our production, and exploring alternative energy sources,” explains Tom Verbaeten.
Those ambitions will require plenty of fresh talent – which is why CNH Industrial has been hiring steadily, creating 200 new jobs in Flanders during the COVID pandemic. Tom Verbaeten: “We hope that the recognition that comes with the Lifetime Achievement Trophy will put us even more firmly on the map as a top employer and one of the largest R&D powerhouses in the region. We couldn’t be more excited. This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.”