French president Hollande opens industry centre for 'Internet of things'

ANGERS, France, June 12 (Reuters) - Can the Loire Valley become the new Silicon Valley? French President Francois Hollande seemed to think so when he opened a new design and manufacturing centre in the western city of Angers on Friday for devices known as the “Internet of Things”.

“When I hear that five of the 12 most-sold connected objects in the United States are French, I have no doubts! I know France will be one of the word’s top digital economies,” Hollande said.

The 8,300-square metre facility is located in what was once the heart of France’s electronics industry before companies such as Packard Bell and Thomson moved production to cheaper Asian factories.

Called the City of Connected Objects - or COC in French - it will help start-ups design and manufacture devices such as smartwatches and personal fitness trackers, which it is estimated could represent a global market worth 300 billion euros by 2020.

Despite France’s reputation as a high-tax, low-growth, bureaucratic country, the claim to be a centre for dynamic young companies has some foundation -- it has a tax stucture that encourages research and development spending was also the most represented nation for a fourth successive year in the Deloitte 2014 Top 500 index of Europe’s fastest growing tech firms, counting 86 companies in total.

Firms such as watch maker Withings and mini-drone company Parrot have also received praise at tech fairs such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the country boasted an unusually strong presence this year.

The new hub in Angers is funded by larger French companies including Orange and Bouygues and is part of the government’s 200 million-euro “La French Tech” initiative launched in 2013. (Reporting by Guillaume Frouin; Writing by Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Greg Mahlich)