Malta Enterprise shoulders the vital role of attracting new foreign investments and fostering the growth of local enterprises. Over the past few years, the agency has had to navigate the complexities of our times – from the pandemic to recent global conflicts – to continue to create a conducive environment for businesses of all kinds to thrive in Malta.

Operating from within the core of Malta’s business ecosystem offers a unique perspective on the shared hurdles businesses encounter and the ongoing trends in different industries. But perhaps more significantly for Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia, the past years have shown him the remarkable resilience of the nation.

“Malta has consistently proven its ability to quickly recover from challenges. Since the pandemic, we’ve shown how much trust companies have in Malta and Malta Enterprise. We have seen unemployment drop, so much so that last year we registered the third lowest unemployment level across the EU. Employment not only rebounded but exceeded pre-pandemic levels,” Kurt notes.

Leading a Government agency like Malta Enterprise requires more than your typical CEO know-how and demands a genuine commitment from the person in charge to understand Malta and its broader economic development. In this light, Kurt has been something of an ideal fit since he landed the CEO role in 2019. With a career ranging from journalism to politics, he previously served as the Head of Government Communication and spokesperson for the Prime Minister, a position which provided invaluable insights into Government-wide plans and strategies for economic development.

Since his appointment, Kurt has been setting the vision, building partnerships and overseeing initiatives to support businesses and investments in the country across a fourpronged strategy involving: investment promotion to ensure a smooth entry into the Maltese market; growth facilitation through tailored support programmes and access to resources that empower companies to expand their operations; facilitating business connections through collaborations with diplomatic missions and trade organisations; and setting up financial assistance through various grants and schemes to help businesses rise above challenges they may face. These instruments are designed to support companies in their investment and growth plans, fostering a robust and resilient business environment.

In its mission to simplify doing business in Malta, Malta Enterprise is also developing a business portal that will bring Government stakeholders under one virtual roof. Through this user-friendly platform, businesses no longer need to deal with multiple services separately. Instead, they can conveniently handle various submissions from a single point, including managing tasks like opening and closing businesses, tax payments, licence management, and applying for incentives and other services. It consolidates functions from 38 different Government entities, ensuring a more straightforward and efficient process for businesses.

Looking back on his journey with Malta Enterprise so far, Kurt reflects, “the opportunity to make a positive impact on Malta’s economic landscape is incredibly satisfying. Working on projects that generate jobs, encourage innovation and spur economic growth is fulfilling. I value the collaboration with diverse stakeholders, including businesses, Government entities and international partners.”

Challenges are also part of the picture as Malta Enterprise tackles intricate regulatory issues, adapting to shifts in the global economic scenario and ensuring resources are allocated effectively for maximum impact. “Striking the right balance between short-term goals and long-term strategic objectives remains an ongoing challenge,” Kurt continues.

In recent years, one of Malta Enterprise’s primary objectives has been to actively address the skills gap in the local market through a multifaceted approach, chiefly through the renewal and expansion of the Skills Development Scheme, which supports businesses in providing training focused on developing a knowledge-based workforce. Additionally, the agency is continuing to promote upskilling through fostering collaboration between industry and academia to ensure that educational institutions are producing graduates who are aligned with the needs of local businesses today.

“We are actively working to build stronger relationships with educational institutions to ensure that the training and education they provide align with the demands of the job market. An example of this is our partnership with the Aviation Maintenance cluster. We not only promote job openings but also engage in a process of refining educational programmes to ensure graduates are industry-ready,” Kurt explains, adding that this model is serving as a template for other high-priority sectors.

Sustainability has become another prominent consideration for businesses worldwide, and Malta Enterprise has been doing its part to help local enterprises adopt sustainable practices through the launch of the Smart and Sustainable scheme. This initiative supports local enterprises in enhancing their operations and transitioning towards sustainability in both processes and products. Focusing on five key areas – Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Waste Minimisation, Sustainable Materials, and Sustainable Digitalisation – the scheme provides a roadmap for businesses to improve their environmental footprint and align with evolving global standards.

While embracing green initiatives proves advantageous for both the planet and business efficiency, the accompanying reporting and complexities can overwhelm many SMEs. Recognising this challenge, Malta Enterprise is stepping in to aid organisations in their ESG endeavours through cash grants to cover expenses related to hiring advisors for ESG reporting, easing the burden on businesses.

“We believe our incentives will help instigate more environmental consciousness among our businesses, while pushing for proper internal structures of management and more representative workplaces, where employees are valued for their contributions. It’s important for businesses to recognise that ESG reporting not only benefits the environment but also enhances their appeal for private investments,” he adds.

In addition to its ESG-focused incentives, Malta Enterprise has been actively rolling out a range of other incentives for a wide spectrum of industries. The Blue Med initiative, for instance, zeroes in on fostering a sustainable blue economy for fisheries, shipping and tourism operators. Meanwhile, the Malta Startup Framework has been set in motion to ease the journey for new businesses trying to get off the ground and scale. The agency is also deeply engaged in collaborating with the Government on key industry proposals, including the European Chips Act, the Net Zero Industry Act, the Critical Raw Materials Act, and the Foreign Subsidies Regulation.

Meanwhile, Kurt and his team are working hard to mitigate other concerns that are impacting businesses, including concerns about inflation as well as digital transition, especially in the light of the growing influence of AI on the world of business. Kurt believes embracing AI is a crucial aspect of this digital shift to help businesses streamline processes, make data-driven decisions and gain a competitive edge.

Economic diversification remains another top priority for Malta Enterprise. As Kurt explains: “Malta needs to keep a healthy diversification in its economy to ensure we overcome economic fluctuations. We are actively supporting initiatives that promote diversification, assisting businesses in exploring new markets and industries to ensure long-term resilience and sustainability.”

Amid a slew of new incentives and frameworks being launched, Kurt is looking ahead to an extremely busy year as he continues to position Malta as a hub of innovation. “By the end of the year, I hope to realise our vision of creating a business landscape where Malta Enterprise and the companies it supports are not just adapting to change but are actively shaping the future of business in Malta,” he concludes.

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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