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Southern Italy: the key to relaunching the Italian economy?

Digital format, 03/12/2020, National Conference

Southern Italy needs a new vision for the future built on consideration of its system strongpoints and on a deeper scrutiny of its problems, with a view to identifying alternative proposals focused on the competitive capacity of those regions, with the goal of improving the business environment.

The starting point must take into consideration certain positive trends: Italy holds 12th place in the European Union for GDP and 8th place in Europe for manufacturing firms; 41% of nationally-based entrepreneurs are young; the nation plays a prominent role in the maritime economy and as a Mediterranean logistics hub; Italy boasts imports/exports equal to 62% and has multiple sources of renewable energy and a strong national base for businesses and innovative start-ups. Nevertheless, weak points persist: uneven growth and development, with some areas in great foment while others struggle with long delays, inefficient public administrations and low productivity. This overall picture provided the framework for discussion of a series of strategic issues such as energy, seaport management and logistics, Southern Italy’s integration within the Italian economy (with benefits for the entire national system), the “green economy” and tourism (a sector in which culture can be a strong multiplier) and skills training.

For projects to be successful, in any case, it is going to be necessary to create an ecosystem with industry at its center – industry that understands the “whats and hows” of production. In addition to the Special Economic Zones (SPZ), specific policies provide for investments even by major national investors and reductions in the cost of living. Functional models such as innovation ecosystems can be replicated in areas where university and industrial facilities – incubators for enterprise, technology transfers and high skills training – already exist.

As the region of Campania shows, economic policies are built on well-defined pilasters such as the quality and quantity of investments, internationalization and entrepreneurial culture. A good industrial policy must be “adjusted” for the skills required by the industrial system and for strategic activities, which calls for local, national and European level synergies.

Industrial policies need to accompany a social recovery plan that embraces everything from infrastructure to the school dropout rate. A plan to create “human cultural techno-hubs” could also attract foreign students to Southern Italy’s universities through “south working” incentives. The topic of skills was addressed broadly in relation to various issues associated with prospects for industry in the Mezzogiorno.

Tourism undoubtedly remains a major strongpoint, but it is going to be essential to aim to offer a higher quality, more cultivated product rather than focusing solely on low-cost. Substantial investment is needed in key sectors such as hospitality infrastructure – that so-called “minor” patrimony of small villages and guesthouses. A broad gamut of immensely attractive places needs to be upgraded, but a focus on cultural marketing and mobility are key to achieving this goal. Indeed, tangible and intangible infrastructures can all do their part to encourage “industry in the South” as well as tourism.

All these efforts need to be launched and defined from the standpoint of an overall vision for the future. Rapid decision-making is called for in each of the sectors examined during the meeting. If all those sectors are combined, and considered as one, new drivers for a better industrial outlook can be imagined. The Mezzogiorno needs a plan that not only “seduces” but “attracts”: the area should be viewed not as the South of Europe but rather as the center of the Mediterranean.