JOSÉ HILA

Spain 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to José Hila, Mayor of Palma, about investment opportunities on Mallorca, the “circular economy,” and the future of the city.

What investment opportunities are available in Palma, and how can the city enhance its role as a business hub for the Balearic Islands?

We have two 'traditional' sectors: tourism and real estate, as well as several emerging industries. Palma is no stranger to significant foreign investment. However, we are now looking to break into other sectors and diversify the local economy. This is where other business activities such as the nautical sector and the emerging concept of the blue economy model come in. As a strategically located Mediterranean city, the nautical sector is already gaining in strength and has a promising outlook. At the end of the day, everything is linked to the blue economy, including how climate change affects the sea, research, the melting of the poles. That is why we presented a wide-ranging project on the development of Palma's blue economy to the regional government of the Balearic Islands and the port authorities. Nou Levant Innovation District is yet another project that is a priority for us is the redevelopment of the area adjacent to our city's convention center. We hope to transform this waterfront district into a working space that connects innovation and agriculture. This would sit alongside the home of the Balearic Islands Symphony Orchestra. We also want a technological university campus to be established there, a space that is open to everyone and combines innovation and culture. The implementation of renewable energies across the capital have also brought about significant investment opportunities. However, there is still a great deal to do, and significant funding is required in order for us to reach our goals. We have applied for several European subsidies in order for the city council to become self-sufficient and run solely on renewable energy by 2030.

How will the planned Nou Levant Innovation District support the transformation of other economic sectors from the point of view of digitalization?

This project calls for two things. First, it requires innovation and doing things differently to what has been done thus far. Secondly, it involves creating important workplaces within our city. To date, job creation has been focused outside the city, which was fairly unsustainable because it forced residents to relocate, increased car usage, and did not enrich the daily life of the city. We want to create a different kind of city, where everything can be reached by foot or public transport. We want Palma to be a pedestrian-friendly city, where cars are by no means a necessity. We hope the city's vulnerable neighborhoods can also benefit from a new, powerful job-generating space. The project itself has both a private and a public part to it. We have already received a significant part of the public funds, which have enabled us to get to work on two public housing developments. What is more, we are already pressing ahead with plans for the symphony orchestra's new base. We have also been given the go-ahead for the redevelopment of a municipal building of culture in an old factory called Can Rivas. This marks the beginning of a project in which we are already shoring up agreements with private land-owning companies, including Spanish multinationals such as Endesa and Mapfre. Their experience enables them to commit to these kinds of projects that will ultimately benefit them from a commercial standpoint. Aside from this, there are five schools in the city that are actively incorporating innovative and cultural projects into their curriculum. This, in itself, is incredibly important as in order for the surrounding neighborhoods to benefit from this projects, local children must be equipped with the skills to take up these employment opportunities. Ultimately, there are plans underway to create a city lab, a space where those children have access to and can learn from new technologies. As the leader of the city, I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of this one-of-a-kind venture.

How is Palma promoting the transition to a circular economy and engaging private companies to this end?

This is achieved through specific projects and by supporting a change in business culture. If a project does not combine public and private investment, it simply will not work. For example, if you take the university out of the equation, you lose the innovation side of things. In terms of tourism, it is important to support the shift toward the sustainability of the city. If big name companies such as Iberostar or Riu forge ahead with these changes, the rest will soon follow, as they are the leaders in the sector. Then, there is the foundation of the project, which is the issue of circularity and the generation of knowledge, which will be later applied to the business sector. Aside from sustainability, we must also consider the fact that the city is a major tourist destination, which affects issues such as public transport. In this particular instance, the Spanish government has already pre-selected the city as a candidate to receive EU funding. This would be invested in the creation of a low-emission zone, a 100-km-long bike lane, public bikes stations, and so on. The commitment shown by the tourist sector, combined with the example set by the administration and the demands of the population, will bring about positive change in Palma over the coming years.

How do you envision the future of the city of Palma?

I see a bright future ahead. Palma is a powerful city, particularly given its size. It is extremely attractive both in terms of tourism and the generation of economic activity. It has always been and is gaining in strength as it positions itself as a destination for investment and employment. We are working to become a more diversified city so that the future of our young people is not merely limited to the tourist sector. The time has come for medium-sized cities such as Palma to create their own opportunities and innovation districts, which, in turn, provide a higher quality of life for their residents.