While Geneva’s economic activity is traditionally based on finance and trade, watchmaking, the production of scents and perfumes, and information and communication technologies, other emerging sectors such as biotechnologies and renewable energy technologies, called “cleantechs,” are growing rapidly. Intense exchanges and the transfer of technologies between the research institutes of the major universities (University of Geneva, University of Lausanne, EPFL), the university-level institutions of the region (HES-SO) and industrial circles are at the origin of this capacity for innovation which is unique in the world. Switzerland tops the list of all nations with respect to the number of patents per inhabitant. Its economic activity is firmly oriented toward niche markets with high added value.
The humanitarian calling of Geneva and the neutrality of Switzerland have also favoured the establishment of 24 international organisations (UN, WTO, WHO, ILO, WIPO, OIC, etc.), 300 non-governmental organisations and more than 140 multinational companies in the Lake Geneva region. The birthplace of the International Committee of the Red Crosshas its headquarters here. Additionally, Geneva also hosts CERN, the largest laboratory in the world specialising in particle physics which was also the birthplace of the web. The importance of these institutions contributes to attracting a highly qualified foreign labour force to Geneva.
The economic fabric of the Geneva region is also made up of innumerable small and medium-sized enterprises (98% of the businesses, and nearly 65% of the workforce) which are also a testament to the region’s enormous capacity for production and innovation. Less involved in exporting, they nonetheless supply sub-contracting services that are indispensable to the activities of the major companies.
Social, political and financial stability, security and of course the population’s high level of education are determining factors that favour economic growth as well as the good economic health of companies and the labour market. Nearly 30% of the inhabitants of the region have benefited from higher education. A flexible judicial and legal framework encourages investment and hiring. A 40 to 42 hour work week, 1,832 working hours per year (third place worldwide after Singapore and the USA) as well as low social charges (9.6% on average) have a positive influence on productivity.
The international dimension of Geneva has naturally generated a range of top-class hotels, especially well equipped for the organisation of congresses, conferences and large-scale trade fairs. Major ideally equipped infrastructure such as Palexpo and the CICG (Geneva International Conference Centre), make it possible to host renowned public or professional events, such as the Geneva International Motor Show and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (International Fine Watchmaking Exhibition or SIHH).
The Geneva region has a top-quality infrastructure in terms of transport, telecommunications and energy: with an international airport in immediate proximity to the centre of the city of Geneva, efficient railway connections to other Swiss metropolitan areas as well as to France, Germany and Italy, the economy of the Geneva region is wide open to international exchange. The demographic structure of Geneva is a perfect reflection of this cosmopolitan intersection: the Geneva population is made up of 35% people of local origin, 25% Swiss from other cantons and 40% foreigners, the majority of the latter coming from European Union countries.