At the beginning of 2017, Agoria’s Ward Vleegen had a short time to make a big impact for his Belgian automotive group.
By mid-2018, he had.
As head of the newly created Transport and Mobility Group, Vleegen was charged with building a new division within the much larger AGORIA group – Belgium’s largest employer and trade association.
Vleegen knew what he was doing – he’d been creating collaborations within the automotive industry for more than a decade. And his board and members were serious about building business – not simply joining another network.
The prospect of a U.S. trip was discussed almost from the time the group began in November of 2016.
“My steering committee asked for a very focused approach, and not just a general visit,” Vleegen said.
About the same time, the Upstate SC Alliance, home to BMW’s largest manufacturing and plant as well as the North American headquarters of Michelin, asked SC Connect to help it make inroads into Belgium.
SC Connect reached out to Vleegen and his group. Cautious at first, Vleegen over time warmed to the idea and helped arrange a meeting with members of his group and the Upstate Alliance during the Alliance’s Belgian visit in June, 2017.
Once that happened, “We could see that the (Belgian) companies that were present were interested in South Carolina,” Vleegen said. “And that, for us, meant ‘okay, we have to move this forward.”
Through the summer of 2017, Vleegen, the Upstate SC Alliance, and SC Connect worked to connect the Transport and Mobility Club to the South Carolina automotive sector. The Belgian Consul General‘s office got involved, as well as the SC Department of Commerce and the SC Automotive Council.
As a result, Vleegen led a delegation of nine companies to the 2018 SC Automotive Summit, where they gave an afternoon presentation to some 500 attendees. SC Connect arranged meetings with key automotive industry players, including BMW, Sage Automotive, Draexlmaier and others.
The result: BMW has asked at least five of Vleegen’s members to connect with executives, and conversations with other partners continue.
“I think for me, personally, the meeting with BMW was really, really good. Because it gave insight that you cannot find on the internet—what are the technology needs of BMW,” he said.
Boots on the Ground
Vleegen knows he would have made the contacts within South Carolina sooner or later. But he credits SC Connect with speeding the process by making the personal connection.
“I think what is always essential is that we have a local partner to work with,” he said. “Working with someone like SC Connect, which has boots on the ground, was very useful.”