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Prefecture building of the Ain department, in Bourg-en-Bresse
Prefecture building of the Ain department, in Bourg-en-Bresse
Flag of Ain
Coat of arms of Ain
Coat of arms
Location of Ain in France
Location of Ain in France
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Country France
Region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Prefecture Bourg-en-Bresse
Subprefectures Belley
 • President of the Departemental Council Damien Abad (PS)
 • Total 5,762 km2 (2,225 sq mi)
Elevation 433 m (1,421 ft)
Highest elevation 1,720 m (5,640 ft)
Lowest elevation 170 m (560 ft)
Population (2012)[1]
 • Total 612,191
 • Rank 40th
 • Density 110/km2 (280/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Department number 01
Arrondissements 4
Cantons 23
Communes 419
^1 French Land Register data, which exclude estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km2

Ain (French pronunciation: ​[ɛ̃]; Arpitan: En) is a department named after the Ain River on the eastern edge of France. Being part of the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and bordered by the rivers Saône and Rhône, the department of Ain enjoys a privileged geographic situation. It has an excellent transport network (TGV, highways) and benefits from the proximity to the international airports of Lyon and Geneva.

Ain is composed of four geographically different areas (Bresse, Dombes, Bugey and Pays de Gex) which – each with its own characteristics – contribute to the diversity and the dynamic economic development of the department. In the Bresse agriculture and agro-industry are dominated by the cultivation of cereals, cattle breeding, milk and cheese production as well as poultry farming. In the Dombes, pisciculture assumes greater importance as does wine making in the Bugey. The high diversification of the department's industry is accompanied by a strong presence of the plastics sector in and around Oyonnax (so-called "Plastics Valley").

Due to its diverse industrial character and the cooperation of small and medium enterprises, Ain ranks among the departments with the fastest-growing economy in the country. Its unemployment rate lies far beneath the national and regional average. Besides the export-oriented SME's, several large enterprises, with a prominent position on national and international markets, have settled in the department.

Although looking ahead, Ain attaches nevertheless great importance to its historical and cultural heritage as illustrated by its gastronomy (restaurant of Georges Blanc in Vonnas), its annual poultry competitions in the Bresse ("the three glorious") and its tourism (346 classified monuments such as the famous church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse, 14 museums of France, eco-tourism and ski tourism).


Artemare, village in the department

The first inhabitants settled in the territory of today's Ain about 15000 BC. The menhir of Pierrefiche in Simandre-sur-Suran dates from the mid-Neolithic era, in the fourth or third millennium BC; it is the sole standing stone in Burgundy.[2] The late-second century BC Calendar of Coligny bears the longest surviving Gaulish inscription.

In the year 58 BC Julius Caesar's military action against the Helvetians advancing through Gaul on the territory of today's Ain marked the beginning of the Gallic Wars.

Under the Merovingians, the four historic regions of the modern département belonged to the Kingdom of Burgundy. In the beginning of the 6th century AD the diocese of Belley (Bellicum) was created, the first bishropric in the region. Abbeys of the order of Saint Benedict were established in the valleys.

In 843 the Treaty of Verdun assigned the territories that comprise the Ain to the kingdom of Lothar I (Lotharingia). The first big fiefdoms ("seigneuries") emerge between 895 and 900 in Bâgé-le-Châtel, which formed the nucleus of the pays of Bresse, and in Coligny. Numerous castles were erected in a low rolling terrain that was not otherwise easily defended. In the 12th century the Romanesque architecture prospered.

In the 11th century the Counts of Savoy and Valromey settled in the region of Belley. In 1272, when Sibylle de Bâgé, sole heir, married Amadeus V, Count of Savoy, they added the Bresse to their domains, and – by the Treaties of Paris in 1355 – the territories of Dauphiné and Gex on the right bank of the Rhône. In the beginning of the 15th century almost the whole region of Ain is united under the house of Savoy. New monasteries are founded in the cities, churches are constructed or reshaped according to the Gothic style of architecture.

In the beginning of the 16th century – the Duchy of Savoy was at the peak of its power – Ain was inherited by Margaret of Habsburg, the widow of Philibert II, Duke of Savoy. In Brou she erected a church and a monastery in late-Gothic style. Bourg-en-Bresse became a bishop's see. After Margaret's death Francis I of France, a nephew of the Dukes of Savoy, claimed the Duchy for himself and conquered it in 1536; however, following a treaty concluded in 1559 Savoy, including the territory of Ain, was restored to the Duke of Savoy who immediately started fortifying it; when shortly thereafter, Henri IV reconquered the region, the citadel of Bourg remained impregnable. The Treaty of Lyon of 17 January 1601 ends finally the conflict. Ain now belonged to Burgundy.

In the 17th century sculpture, painting and literature prosper. During the 18th century streets and small industries emerge. On 28 March 1762 the Count of Eu, son of the Duke of Maine, cedes the region of Dombes to Louis XV.

In 1790, during the French Revolution, the departments of Ain and Léman are created. Ain is subdivided into nine districts, 49 cantons and 501 communes. The Revolution does not claim many victims in the department, but it destroys numerous valuable historical monuments. During the first French Consulate (1802) the districts are abolished. The Congress of Vienna dissolves the department of Léman and assigns the arrondissement Gex to the department of Ain.

During the French Revolution and the First Empire a large number of churches were destroyed, but in 1823 the diocese of Belley is refounded. The Curé of Ars becomes famous. During the Second Empire numerous churches are reconstructed, agriculture changes profoundly, and the railway expands.

Due to its distance from the frontline the department is spared the destruction of World War I (1914–1918). However, the majority of the vineyards can no longer be cultivated and disappear. Industrialization of the department starts in Oyonnax and Bellegarde. Construction of the Barrage de Génissiat starts in 1937.

World War II (1939–1945) vehemently strikes the department of Ain and takes its toll: 600 people are deported, half of them do not return. The monument of the Maquis in Cerdon, the memorial of the children of Izieu and the museum of the resistance and deportation in Nantua commemorate this tragic era.

In the second half of the 20th century the industrialization of the department proceeds, favored by a narrow street and railway network.

Geography and transport networks

Ain is a department of geographic contrasts: In the north the plain of Bresse is bordered by the river Saône and rises slightly towards the north-east. In the south-east the territory of the Dombes has more than a thousand ponds and lakes. In the east the mountain chain of the southern Jura overlooks the plain of Bresse. The busy transport axes to Italy and Switzerland crisscross the valleys. The Gex region is separated from the rest of the department by the last eastern mountain chain of the Jura where the highest elevation in the department, the Crêt de la Neige (1720 m), can be found. Gex belongs geographically to the Lake Geneva basin.

The river Saône represents the western border of the department. It is fed by three smaller rivers: the Reyssouze (76 km), the Veyle (68 km) and the Chalaronne (52 km). The river Rhône represents the departments border in the east and the south. Its main tributaries are the Suran (50 km) and notably the river Ain (190 km) which is fed itself by 118 small rivers and creeks.

Ain is situated at the crossroads of a large national and international flow of commodities and is therefore an important transit region. More than 4000 km of transport routes serve the department. In addition to a well-developed transport network of former national roads, which were transferred to the department in 2007, the Department of Ain is crisscrossed by 220 km of highway.

For national and international flights the international airports of Lyon (Saint-Exupéry) and Geneva (Cointrin) are located within a rather short distance. The department of Ain disposes moreover of two waterways, the rivers Saône and Rhone, on which building material is shipped (gravel etc.). The most important harbour is situated in Jassans-Riottier at the river Saône.

Last but not least the railway network is of great importance, in particular the TGV-connections Paris-Geneva (with a stop in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine) and Paris-Lyon (passing by the Saône valley). A new TGV-connection through the Haut Bugey is under construction. It will reduce the actual travel time between Paris and Geneva by another 20 minutes. The regional TER (train and bus) network is important mainly as concerns the connection to Lyon.


The department of Ain is marked by very dynamic demographics. The population has grown from 471,019 inhabitants in 1990 to 515,207 in 1999 and 565,000 in 2006 (estimates of the French statistics office INSEE). This increase is primarily due to a positive migration balance testifying the department's attractiveness.

The average population density is 97 inhabitants/km² (Rhône-Alpes: 136; France: 112). While the Saône valley, the Côtière, Bourg-en-Bresse and the Gex region have a high density of population, only 16 inhabitants/km² live in the mountainous canton Brénod.


General data

With an unemployment rate of only 5% (compared to 7% in the region Rhône-Alpes and 8% in France), a close-meshed tissue of 11,500 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and a fast-growing, export-oriented economy (main clients: Germany, Italy and Spain) the department of Ain is in economic terms one of the most dynamic regions of France.


Despite its rural image the department of Ain is highly industrialised. In addition to a multitude of SME's several big enterprises of international reputation are situated in Ain (e.g. Roset-Cinna, Grosfillex, Volvo, Carrier, Smoby-Berchet, CIAT, Renault Trucks, Tréfileurope). With more than a third of all employees working in the industrial and public works sector Ain is holding the 6th rank of all departments as regards the degree of industrialisation and it is the most industrialised department within the region Rhône-Alpes. The small and medium enterprises contribute most to the industrial development of the department. While enterprises with more than 500 employees represent only 27% of all industrial employment, the businesses with less than 100 employees count for 47%.

Half of the industry's employees (apart from the public works sector) are working in one of the three branches of the department:

The plastics industry, which is located mainly around the city of Oyonnax, is a highly productive branch of the economy and enjoys an excellent reputation. The "Plastics Valley" comprises 10% of France's plastics industry which constitutes the highest concentration of plastics enterprises in Europe. The 349 enterprises which have settled here employ about 11,000 persons, more than a fourth of all employees of the tertiary sector (without public works). In the Oyonnax basin, three of four employments are directly or indirectly depending on the plastics industry.

The agricultural industry, mainly located in the Bresse, counts for more than 5,000 employees. It represents more than a fifth of the employees in the area of Bourg-en-Bresse who work in the meat industry and in tinned food factories. The pillars of the agro-industry are an efficient agriculture providing for a significant number of high quality products as well as the presence of several leading companies of this branch. The emblematic poultry industry in the Bresse employs only 350 persons.

In 1992 the City of Bourg-en-Bresse, the department of Ain and the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce founded the technology platform "Alimentec". Its tasks are, among others, applied research, technical support, technology transfer and the advanced technical education in the agro-industrial sector. The activities of Alimentec focus on three priorities: ventilation systems, plastics packing and applied hygiene.

The industrial tissue of the department of Ain is also a result of its metal processing (cables, wire drawing, electrical wires) and engineering industry (automobile industry, France's most important site for truck production) as shows the presence of several major companies in this sector (Tréfileurope, Alcatel Cables, Renault Trucks). Foundry, metal processing and electrical industry occupy approximately 8,200 employees. Due to the diversity of the activities of these industries and their dispersion over the whole department, polarisation effects similar to those in the plastics sector have not yet been observed.

Counting more than 12,900 employees, the public works sector represents a significant share of the department's economy. About a quarter of all industry employees are working in this sector. The future development of the building sector benefits from the department's economic and demographic growth.

Thanks to its vast forests (more than a third of the department's surface) the timber industry employed in September 2007 approximately 4,500 workers.

The nuclear industry represents another economic factor. The nuclear power plant in the Bugey produces about 4,2% of French electricity, employs more than 1,350 workers and secures moreover numerous employments in the enterprises of the supply chain. Every day between 300 and 1,000 external employees are working in the power plant. Its importance for the local economy can not be underestimated.

Ain disposes finally of several industrial parks. Apart from the aforementioned Plastics Valley and numerous smaller business parks which have been founded by local initiatives the large industrial park of the plain of Ain has to be mentioned. With 700 ha this park will certainly become a centre for heavy industries in the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.


The diversified agriculture (cattle and poultry breeding, milk and milk products, cereals, vegetables and viticulture) generates products of national and international reputation. In particular have to be mentioned the Bresse poultries ("volaille de Bresse"), the mold cheese ("Bleu") of Gex, Grièges and the Bresse, carps and sturgeons of the Dombes region as well as the wine of the Bugey.

The total number of farms in the department amounts to 5,170, including 2,750 full-time farms. During the previous 25 years the number of farms has steadily diminished. While there were 14 600 farms in 1979, only 11,320 were counted in 1988 and 6,320 in 2000. The total farming surface of the department amounts to 268,361 ha, containing 150,917 ha arable farm land and 118,000 plant cultures (range land, viticulture, fruit meadows, tree nurseries). The value of the departments agricultural production reaches 545 million €. 52% of this amount (274 million €) are allotted to animal products (cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, carp, milk) and 44% (240 million €) concern crop (cereals, oil plants, wine, vegetables, flowers).


The commercial sector comprises 5,861 enterprises including 717 wholesalers and distributors (12,2%), 539 automobile dealers and garages as well as 1,643 retailers and repair businesses (28%) (source: Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Ain, 2006).

With a total of 22,973 employees and 9,000 self-employed persons the commercial sector contributes significantly to the overall employment in the department (source: Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Ain, 2006).

More than three thirds of the expenses of the private households amounting to 4,4 billion € per year are feeding the commercial businesses inside the department which stand their ground vis-à-vis external competition.


The strongly expanding services sector represents 46,6% of all enterprises and about 55 000 employees (source: Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Ain, 2006). Since 2003 the services branch employs more people than any other economic sector. Within the sector, services for enterprises represent 32,2% of the employees. Consulting and IT-services are of growing importance. Educational services as well as health and social services are also sought after. They represent about a quarter of all employees in the services sector.


More than 9,000 handcraft businesses in the department of Ain highlight the particular economic importance of this sector. The handcraft, which employs approximately 29,000 persons has always been an essential element of the local economy. Within the sector, the production is of particular importance, followed by the construction, the services and the alimentary sector.


In economic terms tourism in the department of Ain means 300 million € of business volume and 10,000 direct jobs as well as another 10,000 indirect employments. In December 2006 2,9% of the department's employment was related to the tourist sector (source: Committee for Tourism in the Department of Ain, 2006).

In 2006 700,000 tourists visited the sites of interest in the department (museums, castles, religious monuments, gardens and caves). During the winter 2006/2007 winter sports activity was strongly restrained by the lack of snow. The number of daily skiing tourists amounted to 238,000 (180,500 for alpine skiing and 57,000 for cross-country skiing). The previous average amounted to 465,000 daily tourists per winter.

The angling and cycling tourism (27 circuits with altogether more than 1,500 km) attracts numerous visitors each year. The tourist infrastructure is good and divers. The hotel and hospitality sector counts about 1,100 establishments (hotels, camping grounds, bed and breakfast (so-called "gîtes"), holiday apartments, guest rooms etc.). Their joined capacity amounts to 40,850 beds. During the season 2006 2.5 million nights have been passed in the department compared to 2.7 million in 2002 (source: Committee for Tourism in the Department of Ain, 2006). 15,000 hunters are registered in the departments, 3,000 to 4,000 of whom hunt in the Dombes, one of the best hunting regions for water birds in France.

Research and higher education

Several colleges and research institutions which are situated in Bourg-en-Bresse and Bellignat have settled in the department of Ain. In the Centre for University Studies which, has been relocated from the University Jean Moulin Lyon III to Bourg-en-Bresse, 540 students pursue their studies in 6 different branches : 4 "DEUG" (diplôme d’études universitaires générales = 2 years of studies) in law, modern foreign languages (English-German; English-Spanish), economic and social administration and business administration as well as a "Licence" (= 3 years of studies) and a "Maîtrise" (= 4 years, corresponds to the master's degree) in law (the "Maîtrise" with a specialisation in commercial and trade law).

Altogether 700 students are attending courses at Alimentec, the research and technology centre for applied nutritional sciences located in Bourg-en-Bresse (faculties: biology, energy sciences, informatics and biotechnology), or are qualified by the commercial college of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Bourg-en-Bresse. Furthermore, a branch of the Lyon faculty of education is situated in Bourg-en-Bresse providing 450 places for future school teachers.

In Bellignat, in the heart of the Plastics Valley, a polytechnic university was founded in 1992 which is placed under the direct control of the Ministry of youth, education and research. The Ecole Supérieure de Plasturgie provides 140 places for future plastics engineers and disposes of a pluridisciplinary research laboratory which qualifies advanced students (notably PhD students).

Although it is headquartered just across the border in Geneva, Switzerland, most of CERN's Large Hadron Collider lies in parts of several communes in the Arrondissement of Gex in Ain.

Administration and Representatives

Administrative organisation

File:Préfecture de l'Ain.JPG
Prefecture (view from the parc)

The department of Ain consists of 4 arrondissements, 23 cantons and 419 communes.

Arrondissement Surface
Belley 1307 107
Bourg-en-Bresse 3105 219
Gex 426 29
Nantua 924 64

The biggest cities are Bourg-en-Bresse (40.300 inhabitants), Oyonnax (23.200 inhabitants), Ambérieu-en-Bugey (12.600 inhabitants) and Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (11.400 inhabitants) (estimates INSEE, 2006).

List of arrondissements, cantons and communes of the department of Ain

Corps of Prefects

Laurent Touvet Prefect since July 2013
Caroline Gadou Secretary-General, Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Bourg-en-Bresse since July 2014
Rémi Bourdu Chief of Cabinet and Sub-Prefect since July 2013
Chantal Guélot Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Belley since February 2013
Stéphane Donnot Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Gex since October 2012
Éléodie Sches Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Nantua since August 2012

Mayors of the largest cities

City Mayor Party
Bourg-en-Bresse Jean-François Debat PS
Oyonnax Michel Perraud UDI
Ambérieu-en-Bugey Daniel Fabre UDI
Bellegarde-sur-Valserine Régis Petit DVD
Belley Pierre Berthet DVD
Gex Patrice Dunand DVD
Nantua Jean-Pierre Carminati DVD

Conseil départemental (Departemental Council)

The President of the Departemental Council is Damien Abad (UMP) since the French departemental elections, 2015.

Party seats
Union for a Popular Movement 24
Miscellaneous Right 11
Union of Democrats and Independents 7
Socialist Party 2
Miscellaneous Left 2

Representatives in the National Assembly and the Senate

According to its five constituencies, the département of Ain sends five representatives to the French National Assembly. All of them are members of the right-wing The Republicans (formerly UMP). Apart from former departmental President Charles de La Verpillière (2nd), the others are Xavier Breton (1st), Étienne Blanc (3rd), Michel Voisin (4th) and Damien Abad (5th).

The Senators from the Ain are Sylvie Goy-Chavent (UDI), Rachel Mazuir (PS) and Patrick Chaize (The Republicans).

External links