Calais Promotion

Economic development agency for the Calais region

Local economy

For a long time a hub for industrial sectors such as textiles, chemicals, mechanical equipment and electrical and electronic components, economic activity in the Calais area has gradually turned towards the tertiary sector, which has developed since the 1990s, taking advantage of the area’s geographical location and its accessibility, both of which enhance its commercial credentials. Today, this sector is based around a handful of key activities: services, transport, commerce and tourism.

Calais, a central hub for the Opal Coast
Business services
Transport & logistics
Commercial activities 
Construction - public works 

Calais, a central hub for the Opal Coast 

Numerous national and regional companies have chosen to establish their businesses in Calais thanks to its central location and its fast access along the entire Opal Coast:

  • trading companies such as KDI, CGE Distribution, Lefranc, Metro, Rexel, Wolesley, Missenard & Kindt and Trenois Descamps;
  • other activities: Loomis (transport of cash and valuables), Littoral Nord Autocars (Veolia), OTIS, ELIS Linge (linen services), industrial maintenance (ENGIE), Nord Littoral (press).

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Business services  

Business services represent an important part of the employment sector in the Calais area. The growth of this sector of activity is largely based around operational services, and its importance is due to the presence of the town’s cross-Channel infrastructure, such as the port and Channel Tunnel and requirements linked to the maintenance and security of their sites. This sector should continue to grow with the development of the logistics sector.

Another service activity that continues to develop in the area is customer relations, with the company armatis-lc employing 650 staff in Calais. This major nationwide call centre company established its premises here in 2003 and is continuing its development in Calais with the opening of a second site. The aim of this second centre is to increase the site’s production capacity and should generate a further 350 jobs. The company has found everything it needs for development in the local area: a committed workforce, high-quality service, proximity to Paris, and, lastly, property requirements that meet its needs.

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Transport and logistics 

As a result of its status as a key transit point to the UK, the Calais area’s transport activities are largely dominated by cross-Channel passenger and goods traffic. Its unbeatable location and the complementary nature of its port, rail and motorway infrastructure enables it to handle the majority of goods and passengers between England and continental Europe. Combined traffic figures for the port and Channel Tunnel saw 3.5 million lorries and 4.1 million cars and coaches transported through Calais in 2016. The presence of these two facilities has enabled the Calais area to maintain a continually high frequency of vehicle and passenger traffic enhanced by a very high level of performance.

The Calais area is also able to provide the ideal conditions for the development of the logistics sector, which includes being at the heart of one of the major transit points between continental Europe and the UK. It offers multi-modal facilities with easy road access, a cutting-edge rail network, as well as top-quality shipping services. In addition, an area covering 225 hectares dedicated to logistics has been developed closed to the town’s port facilities and Channel Tunnel and at the junction of the A26 and A16 motorways.

Main companies: Eurotunnel group, Port of Calais, LDA-DFDS, P&O Ferries, TND Nord, Euro Cargo Rail, STCE

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Commercial activities 

Stimulated by the construction of the Channel Tunnel, commercial activities have played a decisive role in the economy of the town and local area, which are home to 1,120 businesses, many of which are geared towards the supply of household goods and are located around the Calais area. These are mainly concentrated in retail outlets on business parks on the outskirts of town.

However, the catchment area extends significantly beyond the perimeter of the Calais area, as the proximity of Belgium and the UK enables the town’s business and shops to attract large numbers of foreign customers.

The commercial area adjoining the Channel Tunnel is a major attraction for French and foreign clientele. Its shopping centre, Cité Europe, is the 10th largest shopping center in France. It attracts 7 million visitors per year. It is home to 130 shops, including a Carrefour hypermarket covering an area of 12,000m². The centre also boasts a multiplex Gaumont cinema, leisure areas and a food mall. Next door, the Channel Outlet Store has around 40 factory outlet-style boutiques offering reduced prices all year round.

Calais has not forgotten the importance of its town centre shopping options, as it is keen to develop a varied shopping experience which benefits the whole of the town centre, as well as establishing a balance in terms of the shopping areas on the edge of town. With this in mind, Calais town council has purchased a commercial site in the very heart of the town, where it is in the process of developing a new concept incorporating a mix of commercial, tertiary and services-based activities. To support this, it has also introduced several projects, the aim of which is to improve the quality of life in the local area.

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The Calais area’s status as a point of entry to the UK from the continent as well as the large numbers of travellers passing through the area has resulted in a natural shift towards tourism.  

There are many reasons for visiting the Calais region:

  • nature: both along the coast and inland, the area boasts many natural sites. The best known are the cliffs at Le Cap Blanc Nez, which receive 1 million visitors a year.
  • countless sporting and leisure activities: hiking, water sports, sailing etc.
  • varied culture and local heritage: CIDM (International Centre for Lace and Fashion), Le Channel cultural centre, the Beffroi etc.
  • shopping: the Cité Europe shopping centre has become a tourist destination in itself for British visitors. 

Foreign visitors, in particular the British, are an important part of local tourism. Out of the total number of hotel nights, half were from outside France. The Calais area has 35 officially approved hotels and 6 campsites.

The port of Calais is also developing into a departure and arrival point for cruises to northern and southern Europe, with cruise ships, each accommodating 3,600 passengers, docking here every summer.

At the same time, the area is focusing on enhancing its appeal for visitors by expanding its tourist opportunities through the development of star attractions, the increase in accommodation options, and the organising of major events and festivals.

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The purpose of the northern section of the Le Virval business park is to develop activities relating to the health sector. Via this dedicated area, the town is aiming to:

  • develop extensive local health treatment facilities for local inhabitants and more widely for the population of the Opal Coast,
  • create a pole of activity by bringing together public and private health bodies as well as a full spectrum of related activities,
  • create synergies between these different bodies.

The first stage in this process was achieved with the opening of the new hospital in 2012. This was quickly followed by the construction of a new clinic, the Clinique du Virval, which specialises in psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders and has enhanced the hitherto limited services available locally in these fields. The Le Virval clinic is continuing to develop its facilities with the creation of a post-cure centre, a project which is part of a public-private partnership with the Calais hospital.

The Le Virval health pole in numbers:

4 health facilities already built,

  • Hospital:

  962 beds
  1,849 salaried staff, including 134 doctors and 1,270 other medical staff
  level III maternity department (neo-natal and neo-natal intensive care units)

  • Le Virval psychiatric clinic:

   80 beds and places
   70 jobs created

  • 1 nursing home, the Roselière residential care home for the elderly:

   170 beds, 70 of which are for patients suffering form Alzheimer’s

  • a  post-cure centre:

   50 beds
   50 jobs

  • An inter-hospital laundry

The Calais area is also home to a private clinic. The town is making efforts to increase its care capacity by encouraging the development of residential care homes for the elderly as well as serviced residences. 

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Despite a decrease in job numbers in recent years, the industrial sector is firmly anchored in the economic fabric of the Calais area.

Textiles, in particular the manufacture of machine-made lace known as “Leavers lace”, has for a long time been the jewel in the crown of Calais’ industry. Today, it still flies the town’s flag around the globe thanks to the quality and beauty of its lace, with three-quarters of its production exported around the world and appreciated by couturiers and lingerie-makers such as Aubade, Barbara, Chantal Thomas, Dior and Lacroix. To help it stand out in a highly competitive market, lace-makers are turning increasingly towards the manufacture of products with high added value which focus on innovation and creativity. Lace-making is predominantly split between three companies - Noyon Dentelles (SDCN), My Desseilles and Codentel (groupe Holesco). Added to this are companies specialising in textile finishing (such as the dye company Color Biotech), a sector which involves around 10 local businesses.

La Maison Balsan, a subsidiary of the Marck group, designs made-to-measure uniforms and corporate clothing, with its creations worn by clients around the world such as the French and foreign armies, Airbus, EDF etc. As is the case with the town’s lace-makers, Balsan has made its name through its unique expertise and the quality of its products.

Chemicals, in particular the fine and mineral chemistry sectors, are another important aspect of industrial activity in Calais, with half a dozen companies employing a total of 900 staff. Production is highly varied, ranging from artificial graphite and titanium dioxide pigments to molecules for the pharmaceutical industry, calcium carbonate and magnesium oxides, with applications in numerous sectors such as the pharmaceutical and steel industries. Leading companies in these fields are working hard to secure their long-term futures by improving their production capacity and diversifying their activities. In 2013, the Axyntis group, via its subsidiary Synthexim, took over the running of the Calaire Chimie company for the manufacture of intermediate products used in the pharmaceutical industry.  

Main companies: GrafTech France SNC, Interor SA, Merck Santé, Scora, Synthexim,

Over a number of years, Calais has seen the influx of highly specialised companies in the cable industry, many of which are leaders in this particular field. As a result, the region has developed significant expertise alongside strong R&D activities. Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks, which specialises in the manufacture of underwater communications, has also developed a new business here recycling old cables which offers its clients ecological solutions to products at the end of their life. Draka Comteq France is a world leader in the fibre optics and fibre optic cable sectors, while Nexans, a global expert in the cabling industry, boasts an R&D centre in Calais specialising in the transmission of energy via high-voltage cables, with a staff mainly made up of engineers and technicians. Between them, these three companies employ almost 600 staff.

The region is also home to the German vehicle equipment manufacturer Schaeffler Chain Drive System, a leader in this particular field. The company has recently doubled the surface area of its production site, taking advantage of this opportunity to reorganise and improve its production. The site has also become an important centre for the group’s research and development activities.

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Construction – public works

The construction and public works sectors are an important aspect of the local economy, with 60 companies employing 10 or more staff in the Calais area – in total these companies are responsible for 1,900 jobs in the construction, public works and finishing sectors.

This list includes the subsidiaries of large French industrial groups (Eiffage, Eurovia, Colas, SPIE etc), regional companies (Ramery, Batinor etc) and local SMEs (SAS Roger Dufeutrelle, Ets Roches, Vilet etc).

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