When Vitry-le-François, Saint-Dizier, Bar-le-Duc and the Joinville Basin play with borders

Industrial Adventures seminar in partnership with the Observatory of Industrial Territories

Maxime Grosjean, Lydie Rollot, Nadège Simon, January 2021

École de Paris du management

The Observatoire des Territoires d’industrie is a project funded by the Banque des Territoires, the Institut pour la Recherche de la Caisse des Dépôts, La Fabrique de l’industrie, the Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires and the Assemblée des communautés de France, implemented by the MINES ParisTech Foundation and La Fabrique de l’industrie.

During the Aventures industrielles seminar, Maxime Grosjean, head of a start-up company, Lydie Rollot, development officer for the Grand Est Region, and Nadège Simon, SME manager, presented the context, actions, results and prospects of the Territoires d’industrie approach for a former manufacturing basin on the Marne plain located halfway between Paris and Nancy, at the crossroads of three departments. The territory, made up of the communes of Vitry-le-François, Saint-Dizier, Bar-le-Duc and the Joinville Basin, belongs to this France forged by the metallurgical tradition. Although manufacturing employment in the Marne and Meuse-Rhine departments has disintegrated over the years, it still constitutes an essential part of economic activity. In order to make a successful transition and regenerate itself, this industrial area is repositioning itself on high-tech activities and exploiting the economic spin-offs of the establishment of a site in the energy sector. It relies on its cultural and tourist heritage, facilitated access to land and increased dialogue between economic agents. Feedback from three players and debate on the project.

Presentation by Lydie Rollot

The headquarters of the Grand Est regional council is located in Strasbourg and two regional hotels are located in Châlons-en-Champagne and Metz. The region has also equipped its territory with twelve Regional Houses, in order to facilitate the decentralisation of regional action. I head the territorial development department of the Saint-Dizier/Bar-le-Duc Regional Council, which has a site in each of these two towns.

Presentation of the territory

As the title of this session indicates, the Territoire d’industrie Vitry-le-François - Saint-Dizier - Bar-le-Duc - Bassin de Joinville plays with borders, since it straddles two former regions (Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine) and three departments (Meuse, Marne and Haute-Marne). At the time of the first division of the industrial territories, the Joinville Basin was part of the industrial territory of Chaumont-Langres.

The current division seemed simpler, given that the Joinville Basin was attached to our Regional Office and that, moreover, this community of municipalities and that of the Portes de Meuse are both concerned by an important issue, the creation of a landfill centre for nuclear waste. Our Territory of Industry includes 8 EPCIs (public establishments for inter-municipal cooperation) out of the 12 that make up the Regional House. It is an essentially rural area, with a population that has decreased by 12% between 1968 and 2015, and currently stands at 220,000 inhabitants. The largest town has about 26,000 inhabitants. This population is also characterised by a deficit in the 15-35 age group, particularly because there is no university centre on site and young people go to study elsewhere. Overall, the territory suffers from a lack of attractiveness, resulting in an older, less mobile and less qualified population than the regional average. However, it has a very rich industrial past, with foundry, metallurgy and mechanical engineering activities, and industry still holds an important place in the local productive fabric, despite the restructuring that has taken place during the economic crises and has led to job losses. Alongside the historic industrial activities such as foundry (the Haut-Marne basin remains one of the leading European basins in this field), there are new activities, such as coach production, the food-processing industry, or aeronautics with, for example, the establishment of Safran.

Moreover, this territory is developing a voluntarist policy in favour of energy sobriety, the development of wind power, or even biomass as an energy source, in order to take advantage of the importance of wooded areas.

The implementation of the Territoires d’industrie approach

The implementation of the Territoires d’industrie approach was led by the Regional Houses alongside the State.

We began by listing the players who would be involved in the approach, namely the elected officials and technicians of the EPCIs, as well as institutional partners such as the CCI, the Banque des Territoires or Business France. It was not always easy to identify the right interlocutor, because some operators in the two former regions still operate within the old perimeters.

We also had to mobilise industrialists, even though there are no established business networks, such as clusters or even business clubs in our territory. So I asked each of the EPCIs to tell me which companies to contact. In all, about sixty companies were invited to take part in the various information or working meetings.

The implementation of the Territoires d’industrie approach was part of a very tight schedule. We started with two information meetings in May and June, the first one for institutional investors (State, Region and local elected representatives) and the second to companies.

Then, we quickly set up working groups on the four axes provided for in the Territoires d’industrie approach: Attractiveness and establishment; Innovation; Recruitment and training; Simplification.

The objective was to produce action sheets by the end of July or the beginning of August. Because of the administrative divisions, the different EPCIs were not used to working together, which complicated the choice of the pair (an elected representative and an industrialist) who was to lead the local project committees.

We finally opted for collegial decisions and the condition of a quorum of four elected representatives and at least two industrialists for the holding of local project committees, responsible for defining a position on the subjects covered by the new action sheets.

These were presented in September 2019 and the contract was signed in November of the same year.

For this entire operation, we benefited from fluid communication with the State’s referents, notably the sub-prefect of Saint-Dizier and the secretary general of the Meuse department, which made the task easier.

The action sheets

There was consensus on certain themes for the action sheets, such as the Pack Accueil sheet, which is the result of a discussion that the Saint-Dizier conurbation community has already been engaged in for some time.

For other themes, such as industrial wasteland, the very tight schedule has undoubtedly prevented sufficient coordination of efforts to enable a truly global and in-depth reflection. In total, 4 sheets deal with the territory’s lack of attractiveness and 4 with innovation. Among the latter, 2 are linked to the results of the support of foundries in an industrial and territorial ecology approach led by the ACAPPI (Association champardennaise pour la promotion et la performance de l’industrie) and the UIMM Champagne-Ardenne on the regeneration by attrition of foundry sands and their valorisation in concrete. The Pack Accueil sheet deals with the themes of recruitment, training and attractiveness, as well as the acceleration of the implementation of the Parc’Innov business park, which Nadège Simon, manager of Carbo France, will talk to you about shortly and which is part of the Simplify axis.

The results

The positive dynamic that had begun was shaken by the health crisis and the subsequent period of containment. We were also waiting for the renewal of the municipal teams, which was delayed.

The next local project committee is scheduled for 30 September 2020 and I have asked each of the bearers to update the action sheets in order to take stock of the progress that has been made since the contract was signed last November.

This progress varies greatly depending on the subjects concerned. For the action sheet on the Parc’Innov,

The prefect has organised numerous working groups and a solution seems to be emerging. On the other hand, the action sheet on the Welcome Pack, which requires an operating budget - and not an investment budget - to enable the deployment of services designed to encourage the reception of new arrivals to the territory, is currently out of order.

In total, the Territoires d’industrie approach has played a positive role for 3 out of 9 action sheets. For the others, we have not seen much progress and this should be a point of vigilance: maintaining the mobilisation and investment of the players will depend on the follow-up given to the various projects. On certain projects, more concrete actions than financial engineering, diagnostics and studies must be favoured in order to make progress.


We now wish to give a new impetus to this process. Between now and the end of the year, we are going to propose that experts take part in working meetings to provide us with tools and methodology.

Two priority themes have been selected, the conversion of industrial wastelands and the attractiveness of the area.

We will also have to renew the steering wheel of the companies participating in the approach, because out of the sixty or so that were solicited, only about ten were regularly present, including Carbo France and Gaming Engineering.

Presentation by Nadège Simon

I run Carbo France, a small company based in the Meuse region of France, created twenty-seven years ago and which manufactures charcoal, mainly for barbecues.

There is no tool on catalogue to make charcoal. This is why, ten years ago, we decided to set up an in-house R&D centre to develop our own tool. To do this, we benefited from the collaboration of the CEA Tech in Metz and the financial aid of the GIP (public interest group) Objectif Meuse. The prototype that we have produced enables us to improve our material efficiency by 25%: to make 1 ton of charcoal, we now need 4.5 tons of wood, against 6 tons previously, which is particularly precious in this period of energy transition.

In addition, our prototype allows us to use residual energy, but also to recover heat from our « waste products ». Indeed, to make charcoal, we use waste from sawmills, which represents a first form of recycling, and we will now be able to recycle our own waste through a biomass boiler room in cogeneration.

Finally, this new tool will enable us to triple our production and thus meet the growing demand from the mass retail sector, which has understood the interest of refocusing its offer on locally produced, eco-friendly charcoal. Knowing that we are the only country in Western Europe to still produce charcoal, demand is very strong. In recent years, our turnover was 8 million euros and the company employed 28 people. In 2020, we will end the year with a turnover of 14 million euros and we now have 40 employees. In order to triple our production, we need more operating space. This is why we are eagerly awaiting the completion of the Parc’Innov project, located a few kilometres from our current site. By setting up in this new business park, we will not only have the space we need to build our new plant, but also be able to sell the heat and electricity produced by our cogeneration unit to other companies located in the park. This is what led us to mobilise on the action sheet corresponding to the Parc’Innov project.

Presentation by Maxime Grosjean

Gaming Engineering is a start-up located in the south of the Meuse. We manufacture innovative fastening solutions, mainly for the automotive and aeronautics industries, and produced mainly by cold heading. These solutions integrate several materials such as steel, aluminium and various composites, with the aim of responding to the decarbonation challenges of mobility: by making vehicles lighter, we reduce their CO2 emissions and improve their efficiency. Furthermore, with the arrival of autonomous vehicles, manufacturers must improve passenger safety, with two options: either increase the thickness of steel, which runs counter to the objective of lightening vehicles, or use new materials to optimise vehicle design. Manufacturers wishing to adopt these multi-material products come up against an obstacle: their assembly lines are not adapted to the mass production of these products. We have therefore developed a system enabling manufacturers to migrate towards these new designs without investment. The French constructors and equipment manufacturers specialised in the so-called light materials (aluminium and composites) are beginning to seize this opportunity, as are certain German, Italian and American constructors. To develop these innovations, we have set up a design office and a first industrial tool, located in Commercy. We are now looking to build a new unit in order to respond to strong growth in demand. This is why we have become actively involved in the Territoires d’industrie approach, with three challenges: accelerating our deployment, succeeding in recruiting the engineers and technicians we need, and facilitating our anchoring in the region.


Rehabilitation of brownfield sites

A speaker : Do the difficulties you encounter with regard to land come from a problem of availability or administrative obstacles? In what way is the Territoires d’industrie system capable of lifting or mitigating them?

Lydie Rollot: There is not much land available on our territory. On the other hand, industrial wastelands are numerous and it is a major challenge, in terms of attractiveness, to make them quickly exploitable by industrialists in order to be able to welcome new companies.

Maxime Grojean : Many industrial wastelands would indeed deserve to be rehabilitated, but these premises will be available in a time horizon too distant to be in phase with the dynamics of our projects. The Territoires d’industrie scheme has allowed us to express needs common to many companies and to meet a wide range of people, and then to benefit from the support of the actors who came forward on this occasion.

Nadège Simon : As far as Carbo France is concerned, we are going to need an area of 30 hectares for our new site, because we will need to have a permanent stock of 50,000 to 60,000 tons of wood, which takes up a lot of space. For the moment, the area we are interested in is classified as agricultural land and it is very difficult to obtain its classification as an industrial zone. The different administrations are passing the quid: one explains to us that to obtain a development permit, it is necessary to ensure that the road network is correctly dimensioned, but there is no study on the network in question and it is another administration that has to carry it out? Between the various constraints to be respected, we have already lost two years on our schedule for the creation of a new factory. We hope that the Territoires d’industrie approach will speed up the process.

Difficulties in recruiting

Participant : Do you encounter difficulties in recruitment ?

M. G. : The technology we use - cold heading - is not very widespread and there is no training in France. Moreover, we add specific processes to it. Any recruitment for a production position therefore requires in-house training of around eighteen months, a period that is difficult to reconcile with our development challenges. We overcome this problem by apprenticeship, both for operator and engineering positions. We are also trying to recruit some hyper-specialists on whom we can rely to prepare for the future. We would like to be able to benefit, on our own scale, from the same system as the one set up for Safran, which aimed to train people from this territory so that they can work locally. We highlighted this subject in one of the action sheets of the Territoires d’industrie initiative.

N. S.: The problem of recruitment has also been an issue for us for years, but not for the production staff, for whom we don’t require any particular qualification and whom we manage to find in the local fabric. On the other hand, as soon as we look for bac +3 or bac +5, it’s a real difficulty. We are located in the south of the Meuse, on the border of the Haute-Marne and, after the baccalaureate, young people leave this sector to study elsewhere. They generally don’t come back, or at least not until they have started a family, a stage for which a rural environment may once again interest them. Given this situation, it has taken us a long time to build up a management team, and recently one of our young graduates left us because his partner could not find a job in the sector that matched her training. So we also rely on apprenticeship, with four young people on work-study or post-bac professionalization contracts at all times, which is a considerable effort compared to our workforce of around forty people.

L. R.: These are recurrent issues and have been widely expressed in the context of the Territoires d’industrie working groups. This is what led to the adoption of the Pack Accueil action sheet, which included measures such as support for spouses in finding housing or finding employment. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we did not find the necessary funding. These difficulties are also encountered, somewhat less acutely, for lower levels of qualification, such as maintenance or machining trades. We even have difficulty in finding young people ready to integrate the training courses on offer. We get a little more results when companies get involved from the very beginning of the training, by clearly displaying the job leads that are part of the training courses on offer. As this form of sponsorship has worked well in an action in favour of the cheese industries, we have tried to reproduce it for training in machining. Nevertheless, despite the job prospects posted and despite all the energy expended by all the partners and industrialists, we did not manage to reach the minimum number of five or six candidates that was necessary to start the training actions. Hence the interest in working together with the entire ecosystem in an approach such as that of the Territoires d’industrie, which brings together a multiplicity of players from different horizons and enables us to pool our findings and resources to try to imagine original responses, like the one implemented for Safran.

N. S.: The challenge is to succeed in adapting this type of response to SMEs such as Gaming Engineering or Carbo France…

L. R.: The machining training programme was aimed at SMEs that had pooled their training needs. This involved four SMEs south of the Meuse and two others in the Verdun region. They had succeeded in identifying a common base of prerequisites and defining a first-level training course with, in a second stage, specific qualification upgrades according to the needs of each company.

How can young people be attracted to training courses?

Participant : Doesn’t the current crisis in job opportunities for young people make it easier for you to recruit ?

N. S. : We haven’t noticed any change. Whether it’s to attract engineers with experience or young graduates, we really need to « sell » our project, because charcoal is not, in itself, a dream product. We insist on our innovations, on the fact that we are in the process of designing a new plant, and we invite those interested to spend a day on the site to discover the company.

L. R.: I can confirm that the effects of the crisis are not perceptible at the moment in the field of recruitment. We have just carried out two campaigns to promote the industry’s trades in order to prepare four training actions that will start at the beginning of September. We have used all possible media ("lollipop" panels in the conurbation, written press, radio spots, Internet…) and, in total, only six people have shown interest…

Participant : Isn’t it conceivable to pool training courses between several territories, or even to put them online, with tutors who travel ?

L. R. : We have already considered pooling training between several areas, but we then come up against an additional difficulty, the fact that people with a level of education below the baccalaureate are often much less mobile than those with higher education. As for distance learning, it is becoming widespread, but it also requires us to ensure that the target audiences have sufficient mastery of digital tools. Finally, there is also the question of the availability of training resources.

Participant : From which schools do the graduates you are looking to recruit come ?

M. G. : They are, for example, the National Engineering School of Metz, the Nancy School of Mines, the Higher Institute of Design Engineering of Saint-Dié, the University of Technology of Belfort-Montbéliard.

Thanks to the Territoires d’industrie approach, the UIMM has been made aware of our difficulties and this has enabled us to attract the attention of a training centre in Nancy, which is considering relocating a training module to Commercy, in order to offer it as close as possible to industrial needs. However, this poses an additional problem, that of welcoming people who wish to follow the training in the area, knowing that work-study students must have two places to live, one close to the school and the other close to the company. On this issue too, the Territoires d’industrie approach has enabled us to make progress by making elected officials aware of the existence of this problem and to outline solutions to enable engineering students to find accommodation during the three years of their apprenticeship.

N. S. : As far as Carbo France is concerned, we do not target any particular school. We have recruited a QSE (quality, safety, environment) manager and a work-study student via the CESI in Nancy (higher education and vocational training campus). We have also just hired a student on a professional bachelor’s degree course in additive manufacturing. For us, the most important thing is to find people who are interested in our project and agree to « relocate » part of the week to the rural sector of the south of the Meuse, which is sometimes difficult to get to and to live in.

Teleworking, a solution?

Participant : Can teleworking be a solution to attract new recruits to the company ?

N. S. : We have practised it, during confinement, but only on certain posts. Everything that is R&D and innovation requires being at the foot of the prototype. We are industrialists and we have to work as closely as possible to the tool to understand how it works and draw the knowledge we need from it. In addition to this, on our site we have enormous difficulties connecting to the Internet and even using mobile phones, which complicates any recourse to teleworking. To be able to take part in this videoconference, for example, I had to ask my teams not to connect during the time of the debate .

Participant : Couldn’t you envisage working in pairs with an operator on site and a remote engineer, who would come to your site from time to time ?

N. S. : Our collaboration with CEA Tech is already organised on this model, with a local engineer (whom we had great difficulty recruiting) and two contacts at CEA Tech. It works well, provided that we have access to the Internet?

M. G. : I confirm that, for us too, teleworking can only be a one-off solution because, as industrialists, we must be present on the production equipment. As for R&D, it suffers greatly from the absence of face-to-face contact between people. Among certain equipment manufacturers and constructors who make massive use of telework, I note that the development dynamic has almost come to a standstill. Solving technical problems generally requires skills held by several people. Taking people away from the technical tool and from their colleagues puts a serious brake on projects. However, one of our American clients, the SCA group, has announced that the teams will not return to the offices until June 2021: we are wondering how we will be able to work with them between now and then…

Transport infrastructure

Participant : Do the transport infrastructures allow easy access to the production sites ?

L. R.: There are no motorways crossing the territory, but the three employment areas are served by rail and road axes that facilitate exchanges with the Grand Est and Île-de-France regions: the National Highway 4, which connects the North and the East, a TGV station in Vitry and a Meuse TGV station in the south of the Meuse. On the other hand, we lack infrastructure and mobility within the territory. The Region has initiated reflections on this subject.

N. S.: The journey between the Meuse TGV station and Paris takes only fifty-nine minutes, which is great, but it takes an hour by car to get from the Carbo France site to the station in question .

Joint actions?

Participant : Are actions carried out jointly by companies in the same sector ?

N. S.: As I mentioned, the mass retail sector is relocating a large part of its purchases to France and is looking for clean, eco-responsible, bio-sourced products, etc. We are partners with the NGO TFT (The Forest Trust), now called Earthworm, which advises companies on designing and implementing responsible raw materials procurement policies, and this leads us to work with French colleagues to raise our clients’ awareness of these issues. We cooperate on communication campaigns, but when it comes to production tools and recruitment issues, it’s more like an every man for himself approach…

L. R.: Despite everything, I have noticed that, in the context of the crisis, some companies have signed agreements to « lend » employees to each other in order not to lose their skills and to preserve the future. Moreover, projects, such as the regeneration by attrition of foundry sands and their valorisation in concrete, will concern several companies.

Selling « made in France » products

Participant : Nadège Simon, it is often deplored that consumers do not accept to pay the right price for « made in France ». How do you manage to sell them your charcoal ?

N. S. : I’ve been working in this company for twenty-one years and, over this period, the situation has changed a lot. During the first ten years, the mass distribution sought to obtain supplies at the best price and didn’t hesitate to go and get charcoal from Africa or South America, without worrying about massive deforestation or the lack of respect for the environment or child labour. Over the last ten years, thanks to TFT, we have made all the major distributors aware of the environmental and social impact of these products, which were sold up to 40% cheaper than ours, and of the negative image they could reflect on them. Threats from communication campaigns led them to relocate their purchases, but in the meantime, French production had collapsed from 90,000 tonnes a year to 35,000 in ten years. Knowing that consumption in France represents between 110,000 and 130,000 tonnes, the needs are enormous. The supermarket chains are so in need of eco-responsible products that they have agreed to raise prices, commit to large volumes and sign contracts with us for two or three years. This allows those of our colleagues who have survived, such as Carbonex, the Bordet group or Industrie Bois Rousseau, to start, like us, to invest massively to redevelop their production. The sanitary crisis has further accelerated this movement of relocation, insofar as the imports have been slowed down for several months.

Financing an industrial start-up

Participant : Maxime Grojean, how did you finance your industrial project ?

M. G. : As our approach relies heavily on innovation, we need very significant investment before we can go to market. We financed the start-up with our own funds and then, as soon as possible, we presented our concepts to structures such as technological research institutes or technical centres, which identified the potential of our technologies and presented them to the industrialists with whom they worked. We were thus able to set up collaborative projects, which enabled us both to finance the development of our solutions and to identify market opportunities. The next step was to invest in the industrial tool. We deliberately ruled out the use of investment funds because we wanted to keep control of our strategic orientations. We preferred to sell our industrial knowledge to Volvo, which enabled us to take initial markets, develop applications for large series and thereby demonstrate our ability to bring innovation to end customers. In this way, we have succeeded in attracting the attention of the banks. A very important step, however, was to obtain the support of Bpifrance, without which the bankers would probably not have taken the risk of financing an industrial start-up, despite the very positive feedback from the market.

N. S. : During the R&D phase, we were lucky enough to benefit from subsidies from the GIP Objectif Meuse and we also used self-financing. For the construction of our new industrial site, we managed to convince the banks to finance us thanks to the prowess of our prototype, our growing profitability and our ever-growing customer portfolio. Having said that, I can confirm that without the support of Bpifrance, they would certainly have been more cautious about the amount of money allocated… We also hope to be able to obtain subsidies again from the Region and the GIP Objectif Meuse.

The impact of the health crisis

Participant: What impact has the health crisis had on your activities and, more generally, on the territory?

M. G. : The crisis came at a time when we were about to set up our industrial tool, which slowed us down. We had great difficulty in getting deliveries and delays were blocking the site. However, in the end we succeeded in deploying our tool. As far as production is concerned, we have seen a significant drop in volume for applications intended for large series, but we are still selling little at the moment and we have therefore been less affected than our colleagues who are already very involved in the automotive market. In addition, the Volvo Group is a global company, which has enabled it to smooth out its orders and not impose sudden stoppages on us. On the other hand, we are worried about the delays taken by our customers’ R&D teams.

N. S. : For us, the health crisis has been both a brake and an accelerator. Our R&D department had to be put on hold because the operators working on the prototype were transferred to production for several months to make up for the absences of those who were afraid of falling ill. In any case, the engineers from CEA Tech with whom we work were confined and it was impossible for them to come to our site. At the same time, as the government forced the French to stay at home with exceptional weather, they took advantage of the situation to have barbecues morning, noon and evening, so we doubled our sales! The supermarkets begged us to deliver and we couldn’t meet all the demands. So we are one of the few companies - along with the pulp and toilet paper merchants, I suppose - to have made more sales than usual.

L. R.: It’s difficult for us to assess the situation objectively. Economic watch units (prefecture, consular bodies, chartered accountants, the Bank of France, the Region…) have been set up to identify as soon as possible the companies that would need help, but for the moment no safeguard plan or collective redundancy plan has been registered in the Meuse. On the other hand, as early as May, we were approached by several companies who wanted to make large investments in production equipment, which is rather a positive sign.


Report written by Élisabeth Bourguinat


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