Google and Facebook on Monday unveiled significant investments in France in a vote of confidence for the country’s thriving tech scene and President Emmanuel Macron’s push to lure foreign investment.
The search group plans to open a new artificial intelligence centre in France within weeks, its second in Europe after Zurich. The move is part of efforts to increase its number of staff in Paris by 50 per cent, with plans to add 360 staff to its 700-person-strong office by the end of 2019 at the latest.
The company also said that it would open four Google Hubs across the country, which will focus on free training in online skills and digital literacy. The first of these will be based in Rennes, Brittany, and will open in the first half of this year with the aim of training more than 100,000 people each year.
“We’re happy to contribute to France’s progress towards becoming a global champion of digital technology,” said Sundar Pichai, Google chief executive, in a blog post. “The country’s achievements in the sciences, arts and academia make it an ideal home for an AI research hub.”
The push to build stronger ties in France follows a history of suspicion towards the tech giant and claims that it has unfairly avoided paying local taxes. France is now at the forefront of a push in Europe to force tech companies to pay tax based on their local revenues.
The Google announcement came as tech rival Facebook said on Monday that it would invest €10m in its French artificial intelligence centre over the next five years, doubling the number of AI scientists at its research base in Paris to 60 and increasing its funding of PhD candidates from 10 to 40.
The investments come at a time of growing momentum in France’s tech and start-up scene. Station F, a former railway depot that is the world’s largest start-up campus, opened in Paris last year and Mr Macron has tried hard to attract the tech industry in a bid to boost growth and curb an unemployment rate of more than 9 per cent.
On Monday, Google’s Mr Pichai and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, were among four top executives to have a one-on-one audience with Mr Macron at the Palace of Versailles, where the French president hosted 140 top chief executives at a private gathering.
The meeting, on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos and under the slogan “Choose France”, was intended to promote France as an investment destination and explain the president’s pro-business reforms.
A number of other corporate deals were also announced on Monday, most notably by Japanese carmaker Toyota which said it will invest €300M to increase capacity at its plant in northern France, creating up to 700 jobs.
Additional reporting by Richard Waters in San Francisco and David Keohane in Paris