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Foreign companies that aren’t so foreign

(Michael Fein/Bloomberg News/File 2006)
By D.C. Denison
Globe Staff / October 16, 2011

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The names are nearly as familiar to Massachusetts residents as baked beans and Plymouth Rock: Stop & Shop supermarkets, Reebok athletic gear, Citizens Bank, biotech giant Genzyme Corp.

But these well-known local brands are owned by companies based in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, and France, respectively.

Every day some 116,000 Massachusetts residents go to work for companies that are based in these and other European nations, underscoring the close economic ties between the state and Europe. It’s also why many in Massachusetts are closely following the financial crisis across the Atlantic.

“Investments by European companies in Massachusetts are extremely important to our economy,’’ said Ken Brown, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment.

Attracted by the state’s highly skilled workforce and culture of innovation, European firms are investing billions in Massachusetts and playing key roles in some of the state’s leading industries, including high tech, biotechnology, and medical devices.

Firms like Novartis AG, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant; National Grid, the British utility; Dassault Systèmes SA, France’s largest software firm; and Royal Philips Electronics NV, the Dutch conglmorate, have all established significant operations here.

Meanwhile, European consulates in Boston increasingly serve as economic development offices, hosting business networking events, arranging meetings for visiting entrepreneurs from their countries, and establishing ties to research groups at local universities.

“The number of European economic development teams that are on the ground here, and the ones that come through on official visits, show that the relationship is a healthy one,’’ said Brown.

The United Kingdom is the largest European investor in Massachusetts, with British firms employing about 40,000 in Massachusetts, according to Phil Budden, Britain’s consul general in New England.

Of the roughly 200 UK companies in the state, the largest are the power utility National Grid, which employs around 5,000 people, and Citizens Bank, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which has approximately 3,500 employees here.

Other major British firms in Massachusetts include drug companies Shire Pharmaceuticals PLC and AstraZeneca PLC. A British product development firm, Cambridge Consultants, based in Cambridge, England, recently added 50 employees to its office in Cambridge, Mass.

“Boston serves as a gateway to the New England and US market for many British firms,’’ Budden said.

Companies based in the Netherlands have subsidiaries in Massachusetts that account for about 30,000 jobs. Royal Ahold NV, the Dutch grocer, owns Stop & Shop, which operates 130 stores, and employs around 23,000 people in Massachusetts. The Dutch electronics firm Philips has a division in Andover and employs around 5,000 in the state.

Close to 100 French companies have a presence in Massachusetts, employing approximately 17,000 residents.

One of the most prominent is Genzyme, which was purchased by French drug company Sanofi SA for $20 billion earlier this year.

Two of the largest advertising firms in Boston, Arnold and Digitas, are owned by the French conglomerates Havas and Publicis Groupe, respectively. Financial firm Natixis Global Asset Management, with 1,100 employees in Boston, is part of the French bank Natixis.

Dassault Systèmes has about 800 employees in Massachusetts. Next next month, the company will move into a new campus in Waltham, which will be the headquarters for its operations in the Americas.

Siemens AG, based in Munich, has about 3,000 employees in Massachusetts, spread among 26 locations.

The global electronics and electrical engineering firm’s operations here include the North American headquarters for Osram Sylvania in Danvers, which produces Sylvania brand lighting products, and it employs more than 700 people.

Lesser known Siemens divisions have made rail cars for the MBTA’s Blue Line and provided traffic cameras for Boston intersections. Siemens is also a major technology provider for the planned Cape Wind project off Cape Cod.

Other German companies with large operations in Massachusetts include Merck KGaA, which owns the drug firm EMD Serono and the former Milllipore Corp., now known as EMD Millipore.

Puma North America, in Westford, is owned by Puma Group, a German athletic wear company. Reebok International Ltd., in Canton, is owned by another German sportswear firm, Adidas AG.

Other European countries also have company divisions in Massachusetts. Banco Santander SA of Madrid, for example, owns Sovereign Bank, which has about 2,700 employees in Massachusetts.

About 40 Swiss firms in Massachusetts employ 5, 000 people in the state. The Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge employs about 1,300 people.

Holcim Ltd., a Swiss maker of cement, employs nearly 2,100 in its Waltham location. LogicaCMG, an information technology consultant, has 600 employees in Lexington.

Switzerland’s consulate, located just outside Harvard Square in Cambridge, is typical of many of the European consulates in Boston: It doubles as a networking hub for Swiss technologists and entrepreneurs.

Pascal Marmier, who serves as the director and consul at the consulate’s future-oriented technology and business center, Swissnex Boston, said he is monitoring economic events in Europe closely, but his primary focus is on the future.

“Our operation here is very forward-looking,’’ said “Our job is to have one foot in the US and one foot in Switzerland. We’re a matchmaker for the next generation.’’

D.C. Denison can be reached at