Bill Ruh has found what he was looking for. General Electric’s chief digital officer traveled from Boston and is standing inside a brightly illuminated hall in Paris’s Bourse area. “Those are just the sort of places we need,” he says and points upward. “Here we provide office space to young firms that bring GE forward with their inventions.” Around 80 IT specialists, software developers and designers are already working at the Digital Foundry, as GE calls its first European development center. Soon 250 employees will be working to improve GE’s innovative power. Mr. Ruh says there are probably “only a dozen cities in the world with as much talent.”
Many other digital corporations share this conviction. A few blocks further, Facebook and Google have set up their Paris labs, while Amazon and Microsoft will open data centers later this year. “The Silicon Valley of tomorrow is Paris,” predicts the head of Cisco, John Chambers, who intends to invest $100 million in French start-ups.
Such cooing about Paris being at the digital vanguard may raise eyebrows in Germany, where France is routinely dismissed as a strike-prone nation that has been postponing reform for decades. A country where many voters are so terrified about globalization that they would happily elect far-right leader Marine Le Pen as their president is surely anything but a magnet for tech talent, right?
So there was widespread amazement when French automaker PSA announced it would buy Opel. To further aggravate the Germans, PSA itself had just recently escaped bankruptcy. But thanks to robust fundamentals and competent management, the producer of Peugeot and Citroën cars was able to turn itself around.