QUALITY OF LIFE TIPS THE BALANCE

QUALITY OF LIFE TIPS THE BALANCE

Investment deals and incentives offered by competing countries are often very similar. So what can tip the balance in a corporate investment decision? Try the quality-of-life factor.

That is the approach that has been adopted by officers of the economic development agency of Bordeaux in pitching for their city, with its vibrant cultural life, university complex and attractive surrounding region known as Aquitaine.Such factors more than compensate for high French corporate and personal taxes and are likely to weigh increasingly on the globalizing economy.

Famous for centuries for its ''red gold,'' Bordeaux has expanded far beyond wine in securing investment by foreign as well as by French companies. Executives new to the region say people good at producing quality wines are also good at adapting to high-tech work.

With its Atlantic Coast seaport, strong trading traditions, good national and international air, road and rail links, Bordeaux is a major European center also strategically sited near Spain and Portugal. Its industrial and business locations are matched by good vacation facilities and a quality environment stretching down to the Pyrenees.

The region's traditional economic strengths have been in agriculture-related activities such as wines and spirits, as well as wood-based paper and pulp. In the postwar era, Bordeaux turned a major industrial corner in 1973 when the Ford transmission plant came on stream.

After an initial investment of $100 million, the plant was expanded for the first time in 1976, and is now undergoing a second extension, involving a $300 million, three-year investment through this year.

It is the biggest private employer in Aquitaine, with a work force of almost 4,000, producing automatic and manual transmissions for 20 percent of Ford's worldwide car output.

Typical of the modern generation of young entrepreneurs who have found quality of life and business stimulus in the redeveloped former wine-shipping area of downtown Bordeaux is 28-year-old Nicholas Gaume.

In 1990, at 19 and with barely $6,000 in capital, Gaume founded his video-game company, Kalisto Entertainment. It now has a staff of 200, a turnover of $18 million and is quoted on the Paris bourse equivalent of NASDAQ.

A recent newcomer to Bordeaux is the fledgling Infusio enterprise, founded in mid-1998 by two young French engineers, Gilles Raymond and Sebastien Bruhat. Now employing a dozen people, Infusio is a trailblazer in the new market of interactive games for mobile phones.

''We have signed deals with people like Schlumberger, Packard Bell Europe and Mannesmann,'' Raymond said. ''There are about 200 million mobile phones in the world, so it's a fantastic market, but you have to move fast to stay ahead.''

High-tech companies especially like the region's greenfield sites. These companies include Serma, which does failure analysis of micro-electronic components, and the Diagast biotechnology unit, which moved from Lille in northern France.

But services have also taken to Bordeaux, such as the Bull information technology group, which has set up a call center in a new business development area.

Executives from all these companies cite quality of life as a key factor in their choice of Bordeaux, and they clearly feel they have made quality decisions.