Within five days of opening, almost 110,000 customers passed through the store’s doors, spending more than €2.5m between them. About half of them travelled from Murcia and the remainder came from Alicante, Almería and Valencia.

The store is located to the south of the city and is part of a new out-of-town shopping complex that is attracting other investors, such as Nueva Condomina, Thader, Metrovacesa, Alcampo and Deparcom. Ikea invested about €50m in the store and has created 300 jobs.

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The fact that Murcia was chosen as a location for the 27,000 square metre Ikea store rather than larger cities like Valencia and Zaragoza is significant. “We offer exceptional conditions for doing business in Murcia, not only in terms of subsidies for setting up businesses, but also certain tax breaks to companies like Ikea,” says Ramón Luis Valcárcel, president of Murcia region. “We also have an incredibly motivated and highly skilled labour workforce, which is very attractive to outsiders.”

Turning point

“Murcia, and its surroundings, is at a very important turning point – it is practically the fastest growing city from an economic point of view in the Mediterranean between Valencia and Málaga,” he says. “We are in a geographically strategic position, located in the middle of those two major cities. Including the surroundings within a 20-minute drive from the city centre, we number close to 1.5 million inhabitants and if we look at the numbers up to an hour away there are between five and six million inhabitants.”

Murcia seems to be turning into a magnet for commerce and the region’s population is the fastest growing in Spain, which is another reason for Ikea to settle there. The enormous tourism property boom in the region will effectively double the population and furnishings will have to be bought for every new villa or hotel. Ikea could not be better situated.

The regional government of Murcia has been helpful to companies such as Ikea by subsidising up to 20% of the total investment, and assisting in the training and selection of the local personnel. In the case of Ikea, special initiatives including flexible hours and childcare assistance were set up for women, who make up the bulk of the workforce.

Furniture world

Murcia has about 1000 furniture companies that produce woodwork, synthetics, upholsteries and related products. Combined they account for 16% of Murcia’s industry and employ 8000 workers. The furniture sector as a whole is considered the second largest in the economy in terms of budget contribution, amounting to 6% of the public budget balance.

Ikea already has a long history of doing direct business with Murcia, particularly with the area around Yecla, which is famous for its furniture and furnishing factories. Murcia is the third largest furniture region of Spain in terms of exports. Large furniture companies, such as Granfort, which is the largest upholstery company in Europe, are based in Yecla. Kanaba is another Yecla-based company that is strongly associated with the furniture business and was recently awarded the mammoth task of fitting the luxury and standard cabin suites for the Queen Mary II cruise liner.

Craftwork cluster

Yecla was traditionally a trading post for craftsman of all kinds, especially woodworkers. With more than 34,000 inhabitants, the municipality is located in the north-east of the Murcia region. Today, about 450 furniture businesses, just under half of Murcia’s furnishings market, are based there.

According to Mr Valcárcel: “Ikea was keen to manufacture as many of its furniture products as possible in the region to make the process more sustainable. With such resources so close to consumers, this cuts down the environmental and economic cost of transporting goods. Ikea already has providers in the region and I think that was perhaps another selling point for us.”