The free zone consortium was the first of its kind in Spain. Can you tell us about its evolution?
The consortium was born over a hundred years ago. At the end of the 18th century, Spain lost the colonies of Cuba and the Philippines, and a problem related to international trade arose. In addition, after World War I, trade opportunities appeared that Catalan society wanted to take advantage of. There was intense pressure to rent a free port in Barcelona, a claim that was demanded in the meeting of 499 municipalities in the city of Barcelona. In the end, a consortium was created in 1916, which included the city council of Barcelona, the Chamber of Commerce and Navigation, the Chamber of Industry, and the Association of San Isidro (an association of farmers). From that moment onward, the consortium was created to manage this free port, and it has evolved ever since. Besides this, there was also an interest in having a physical public space, and it focused its attention on part of the Delta del Llobregat. The state, through a concession free of charge for the exploitation of coastal sands, granted the exploitation for 50 years, and the consortium obtained the necessary resources to expropriate this part of Delta del Llobregat. It was no longer only a free port. In the 1950s, the first installation of SEAT marked an important step for the consolidation of the industrial estate.
This consortium is a good example of the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors. What is the role of this alliance on the philosophy and expansion of the free zone?
Its origin comes from the public and private sectors. We have the economic world of the city of Barcelona, town hall, and the Spanish state. The performance of the consortium since its inception has gone hand in hand with this relationship between the public and private sectors. In fact, current projects are sustained on that type of relationship. Our current flagship group is the 3D-printing business incubator, which is the result of the relationship between the consortium and the Chambers of Commerce of Spain through the INCYDE Foundation; we have received aid from ERDF funds, the EU, and the private technology center, Leitat. These three public and private entities have come together to create something new in an innovative field. In June 2019, we held seven international events at the same time, including the world congress of the World Free Zone, the Mediterranean Summit, and the meeting of the free zones of Latin America ATSFA.
A priority for the consortium is DFactory, a 3D-printing project. What is the strategic plan for its implementation?
The project was inaugurated in April 2019. The idea is to incubate 100 companies there over the next five years. The project was inaugurated by the Minister of Science, Innovation, and Universities, Pedro Duque, as well as the mayor of Barcelona. We are currently incubating 26 companies, surpassing 2019's objective of 20. It is extremely useful because in the incubator the companies can interact with each other. 3D-printing works with different materials: plastics, resins, ceramics, and so on. There is one company manufacturing glasses and another that manufactures motorcycle parts. Other companies also manufacture aeronautical or automotive parts, as it is possible to manufacture more resistant pieces with less weight, which is key. We have all that here. In the next five years, we will incubate all these companies, though we are also building DFactory, a factory in line with Industry 4.0. In that factory, we will do 3D-printing, AI, robotics, and aspects related to cybersecurity. Architecturally, it is different and more expensive. What we are building in this first phase will be ready in June, and the first companies will begin to occupy it after the holidays. It is around 17,000sqm with an investment of EUR17 million.