26 YEARS ON CLUSTER POLICIES

Spain 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joan Romero, CEO of Catalonia Trade & Investment, on promoting industrial clusters, Catalonia's talent pool, and objectives for 2020.

How has the agency evolved since its creation?

Catalonia Trade & Investment is the Catalan Government agency in charge of FDI promotion and that helps Catalan companies to internationalise and innovate, working from both its headquarters in Barcelona and the 40 offices around the world that collectively cover 115 markets. It's a dynamic organization, created in 1985 and that has evolved significantly since then, always trying to adapt to the needs of Catalan industry. The agency opened its first international office in Tokyo and New York 30 years ago, and the office network has handled more than 20,000 company projects up to now. The agency also works actively on promoting clusters; in fact, Catalonia was a pioneering region internationally when, 25 years ago, it began to put into practice public promotion policies for clusters.

Could you mention some of Catalonia Trade & Investment's recent projects?

Traditionally as an agency we have been very firmly committed to internationalising Catalan companies. In fact, Catalonia for the last eight years has been consistently breaking records in terms of exports. In this area we are working above all to minimise internationalisation barriers via a specific team that, for example, helps SMEs to continue to export to the United Kingdom with Brexit or to the US with the new agro-food tariffs. But now is the time for innovation. Today we have a clear strategy focused on digitalization and new ways to innovate, locally and worldwide, with multiple cooperative programs in other regions including Israel, South Korea, Chile, Germany, France, Scotland, and more. This year we have decided to go even further and have launched an initiative called “Catalonia Exponential,” through which we help the more disruptive companies contrast their projects in different, international innovative environments such as Silicon Valley.

Where is the urgency for innovation coming from?

The 2007 crisis was a crucial point for everyone. It forced our companies to find their way in the international market. Furthermore, we are now facing on-going revolutions, like industry 4.0, which involves challenges that we must face very differently to how we did so in the past. We used to have a lot of constants with only one value that was changing. Now changes come from many directions; from the consumer, the process, the technology, the materials, and more. It is a huge revolution that evolves on a day-to-day basis, meaning the changes that are coming are harder to predict.

For example?

If a company wants to continue exporting, it has to incorporate new technologies to its processes, products, and business models. In the automotive sector, for example, if we move toward electric vehicles, there will be a lot of companies producing parts for petrol-powered cars with no market. They need to change and take into consideration the new products they should be developing for a broader sector.

How important is FDI for Catalonia?

It's crucial for the Catalan economy: Catalonia has attracted €23,000M over the last five years, 45% more then the previous five-year period. We have 8,600 multinational companies that are the motor of our economy and that work with a lot of local companies. We try to have as much foreign investment as possible, for example in R&D where Barcelona and Catalonia are highly competitive. In this sense, our offices and strategy here are mainly focused on attracting technological projects, R&D centers, industrial investments (both greenfield and reinvestments) by means of tailor-made projects. Our international offices work to get Catalonia on the shortlists of these projects. It is worth mentioning that The Financial Times recognised Catalonia as Southern Europe's top region for investment in 2018/2019. They also gave an award to Catalonia for having the best FDI attraction strategy.

What is it about Catalonia that makes it a hub for entrepreneurship?

It's a mix of assets that connects our past with our future. Ten years ago, Barcelona was not on the rankings in terms of entrepreneurial environment, and yet now we are ranked fifth in Europe in terms of the number of startups and third in preference by startup creators given that 20% of startup founders would choose Barcelona to set up their new company after London and Berlin. What makes us a unique hub worldwide is a mix of different things: a growing economy (the Catalan GDP grew in 2018 more than the EU average); a strong research ecosystem that is both mature and world-renowned; top universities and two high-ranking business schools. We represent just a few million people, but we are responsible for more than 1% of published scientific information in the world. Furthermore, Catalonia has a privileged geostrategic position, extremely well-connected to the rest of the world, home to internationally class-leading facilities such as the MareNostrum SuperComputer and the Alba Synchrotron. In the end, it's all due to its solid industrial base, given that industry represents 20.7% of the Catalan economy.

Which would be the key point?

Talent. The talent pool in Catalonia is a massive competitive advantage we can count on. And it's international. There is a multicultural environment here, with 26% of people working at startups having come from abroad. This is important for startups, as they look for a multicultural environment in a place where you can attract even more talent.

What are your main objectives for 2020?

We have different approaches for the short and long-term. Our short-term approach is to face these new revolutions and try to adapt our different industrial sectors to these new challenges. In the long term, we need to be more disruptive and more international, which is why we started the Catalonia Exponential project. To achieve this, we need to strengthen our startup ecosystem and increase the number of scale-ups happening in the city. We want to ensure that any company thinking about technology or innovation in southern Europe considers Barcelona first. Increasingly more, people are understanding that this is the right place to be.