Choosing an investment location often involves both the head and the heart. The cold, hard facts and stats can reveal a lot about whether an investment makes sense, but the soft factors are often equally important when assessing suitability. In the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, investors believe that the location scores well on both counts.

Companies such as Beneteau, Flextronics, BAT, Electrolux, Wärtsilä, Amazon and O-I Glass are among the big names that have set up shop here, attracted by its geographical position, strong record for logistics and innovation, and the high quality of life it offers.

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Jérôme de Metz, chairman and CEO of boat and yacht builder Groupe Beneteau, says the firm opened its shipyard in the town of Monfalcone in 2008 for some very good reasons. “We wanted to combine the best of made-in-Italy style and design with the industrial know-how of Groupe Beneteau,” he explains. “Since 2008, Groupe Beneteau has significantly invested in the Monfalcone production site to develop a cutting-edge facility designed to accommodate the assembly of luxury motor yachts from 66ft up to 105ft.”

Friuli Venezia Giulia is an autonomous region of Italy. It sits at the crossroads of European strategic corridors, on the Adriatic Sea, providing a link between the Mediterranean Sea and central and eastern Europe.  The logistics sector has traditionally been one of its strengths, with a regional airport, rail and road networks, and three ports — including the Free Port of Trieste — being particular attractions for investors.

Lydia Alessio Vernì, general director of Friuli Venezia Giulia’s investment promotion agency Agenzia Lavoro & Sviluppo Impresa, says: “The region’s location has been a driver behind recent investments in the Free Port of Trieste — Italy’s most important commercial port with a trade volume of 62 million tonnes — and in its network of industrial parks.”

Mr de Metz explains that Groupe Beneteau wanted to develop an industrial site in Italy to take advantage of local luxury motor yacht skills and to make strategic use of an ideal location on the Mediterranean Sea. “We considered the Monfalcone site as an alternative to the already highly developed nautical sector on the opposite coast of Italy,” he explains. “Another critical element in our decision to establish ourselves in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region — and more specifically in Monfalcone — was the quality and good level of qualification of its labour market, from where we’d be sourcing our staff.”

Business support

Investors can tap into a series of incentives and support services in the region, such as help with identifying the right site; translation assistance; tax, finance and legal advice; and funding. Financial enticements include subsidies, grants, tax breaks and support to strengthen capitalisation.

“Our choice to base the shipyard in Monfalcone was supported by the regional authorities and the opportunities we identified here,” Mr de Metz says. “In 2021, we decided to invest further in the Monfalcone site to produce our glass fibre reinforced plastic parts that we had previously subcontracted.”

O-I Glass, a global producer of glass containers, operates several plants in Italy, including the Julia Vitrum cullet treatment centre and the Villotta wine bottle production plant, both in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Guido Amato, south-east Europe computer graphics director for glass treatment initiatives and vice president of Julia Vitrum, says the firm invested €50m in rebuilding the O-I Villotta factory and installing advanced energy-saving technology in 2014–2015.

He says the firm could rely on the efficiency of the public administration during this time. “The timing of several authorisation procedures was respected. Moreover, especially for the treatment centre, which was a new activity, the regional authorities worked very effectively to ensure all the necessary environmental authorisations were ready,” he explains.

Various financial incentives offered by Friuli Venezia Giulia’s authorities have been welcomed by Mr Amato, who reveals that O-I received regional funds to help support the start-up of some of its activities. “For example, the region owns 20% of the shares in Julia Vitrum for a period of three to five years to support the start-up,” he says.

R&D, technology and innovation

R&D, technology and innovation are important for the region. According to Agenzia Lavoro & Sviluppo Impresa, Trieste has 37 researchers from around the world for every 1000 inhabitants.

There is also a strong local innovation ecosystem, which includes 12 international research institutes, three universities, three science and technology hubs and four certified incubators.

Collaboration and training

Mr Amato is impressed with how his company has been able to collaborate with other firms in the region. “We have been able to work in synergy with other companies that complement our activities in both glass production and cullet treatment,” he says.

“Additionally, we can rely on the support of regional technical institutes to offer courses that train local people in the very specific technical skills needed in our factories.”

Mr de Metz is also pleased with the opportunities for partnerships with scientific and research organisations, as well as the local capacity to provide people who have naval engineering skills.

“These are important elements for Groupe Beneteau as we want to develop synergies, encourage training activities to maintain knowledge, and to contribute to the development of boatbuilding locally,” he says.

High quality of life

Investors say Friuli Venezia Giulia’s major pull factors are the beautiful surroundings and the quality of life it offers, making it easy to recruit people to live and work here. Not only do inhabitants have access to its international schools, they can also enjoy the region’s arts and culture, its World Heritage sites, and its beautiful coastlines, hills and mountains.

“The region offers a high quality of life, among the highest in Italy,” says regional minister for productive activities and tourism, Sergio Emidio Bini. “A recent survey placed our regional capital in first-place nationally for education, training and human capital. And we also have very high standards in terms of cost of living, safety, culture, sport and the environment.

“We have a recruitment pool of skilled people with a level of qualification that’s higher than the national average, including those who are highly qualified in scientific and technological fields plus the resources for collaboration in research, development and innovation projects. If there is one place in the world which perfectly embodies the saying ‘work ennobles man’, it is our region.”

In association with Agenzia Lavoro & Sviluppo Impresa — Friuli Venezia Giulia. Writing and editing were carried out independently by fDi Intelligence.

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.