2014 started with the expectation that the economy would recover. However, growth was limited to the United States, mainly driven by shale gas and oil development, China, with the lowest economic growth in 25 years, and some African countries. There was little growth in Europe, including both Belgium and Germany.
Lawrence Summers, Harvard economist and United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, used the concept of 'secular stagnation' in this context: innovation and development, as promoted in the last few decades with the triple helix model, no longer cause economic growth. And even when economic value increases, it no longer guarantees more jobs. This is the case with, for example, IT and dot-com companies. Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce group which made a spectacular debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, 'only' employs 20,000 people globally. And with fewer than 50,000 employees each, the American giants of the modern tech economy, Google and Facebook, only employ a fraction of the workforce the industrial giants in the 20th century used to employ. In other words, the 'new' economy creates a lot of financial value, but comparatively little employment. This trend is also noticeable in the manufacturing industry: Oculus VR, a manufacturer of virtual reality headsets with only 75 employees, was bought in 2014 by Facebook for US$ 2 billion. Foxconn, which has long been the symbol of China's production economy, at one point employed 1.5 million people, mainly to assemble electronics for the Western market. But due to mounting labour costs, China too is exchanging its workers for robots.
Companies need to innovate more and create employment. This combination of innovation and employment is still possible in 'traditional' sectors. One man, George P. Mitchell, has refined and commercialised the fracking procedure in only 10 years and with a budget of only US$ 6 million, which led to the economic growth we are currently experiencing in the United States, along with a strongly altered worldview with regards to energy production and dependency. Elon Musk — manufacturer of electric vehicles with his company Tesla Motors ¬— also proves that companies are the ones who innovate and produce technological breakthroughs visible in daily life.
In other words, cleantech and sustainability do still offer opportunities for both economic added value and permanent employment. With its sustainable cleantech expertise regarding energy, chemistry, material management, land development and healthcare, VITO is in an ideal position to seize both opportunities and to become a key player in the new cluster policy of the Flemish government, using its own cleantech strengths.
VITO's role in the coming years is clear:
- Continuing to support companies by developing and transmitting knowledge;
- Strengthening the economic fabric in Flanders by specifically approaching SMEs and offering innovative concepts to entrepreneurs;
- Acquiring additional means through international contract research, a growing presence in emerging countries and attracting international talent.
In 2014, VITO produced excellent results, with an increasing budget and a record number of SCI-papers and patent applications. In this annual report, we are pleased to tell you about the achievements and aspirations of VITO in 2014.
I hope you enjoy reading the annual report.
Em. Prof. Dr. Harry Martens
Chairman Board of Directors VITO
Board of Directors
Chairman: Harry Martens
Members: Harry Martens, Dirk Fransaer, Joris De Schutter, Koen Kennis, Frank Gérard, Michel Meeus, Claire Renders, Ann Verreth, Ingrid Vanden Berghe, Marie Claire Van de Velde, Bartel Van de Walle
Government Commissioners: Nele Roobrouck, Tim Moens
Dirk Fransaer (Managing Director), Gerrit Jan Schaeffer (Director), Walter Eevers (Director Valorisation and Strategic Partnerships) and Agnes Bosmans (Director Human Resources and General Services).