Having one of the world’s most famous cities as your regional capital might seem like a privileged kind of problem to have, but it is a problem nonetheless. Lazio’s challenge is to remind investors and tourists that beyond the domes and spires of the ‘Eternal City’ is a region brimming both with tourism potential and unique investment opportunities in some of the most cutting-edge and exciting areas of industry. One of the main tasks of the regional government and Lazio’s regional development agency, Sviluppo Lazio, is to bring this information to the attention of the rest of the world.

While famed for millennia for the quality of marble quarried in the region, Lazio has for some decades enjoyed one of the most sophisticated and diverse local economies in Italy. Rafael Ranucci, councillor for economic development, research, innovation and tourism at the regional government of Lazio, says that industries such as pharmaceuticals, food production, services and the movie business are already considered traditional in the region.

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Further development

The regional government now hopes to leverage further development from its highly trained and motivated workforce, judicious use of EU structural development funds, and strategic location in the heart of Italy. Now employment prospects are emerging in high-value industries such as information and communications technology (ICT), aeronautics, biosciences and nanotechnologies; and Lazio is one of the prime contenders to be the location of the Galileo space project.

Lazio can boast several big name investors among its success stories: MERCK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Abbott in the pharmaceuticals sector; aerospace companies Finmeccanica, MBDA and ADS; Eriksson and IBM on the ICT front; and logistics companies Aig Lincoln and Saima Avandero. Economically, the region is already one of the most successful in Italy, consistently performing better than the national average: in 2004, real growth in GDP of 3.8% compared with Italy’s 3.8%. GDP per capita growth was 15.1% higher than the nation’s, and employment rose by 8.8% between 2000 and 2005. Tourism in the region (Rome has been attracting tourists for more than 3000 years) is growing by about 20% year on year.

Strong links

“With more than 500 public and private research centres, Lazio, perhaps more than any other region in Italy, offers investors strong links between integration between research and production. The region boasts a highly specialised workforce and an efficient regulatory framework for entrepreneurs of all sizes,” says Mr Ranucci.

Rome’s proximity to the sea is often eclipsed by its reputation for art, architecture and history, he says, but points out that the ancient port of Ostia is only 15 kilometres from the city centre and the Lazian port of Civitecchia is the largest hub for cruise ships in the Mediterranean. Encouragement of the maritime economies in Lazio’s littoral region is one of his government’s priorities, he insists. “We’re pushing very hard on this. We have 300 companies making up a very strong maritime economy, largely based on boat production, repair and facilities. Now, as a region, Lazio is the second largest boat producer in Europe,” he says.

Mr Ranucci says that his aim is to create an industrial cluster that can draw in investors.

Easy reach

The Lazian government is all too aware that many visitors to Rome – spellbound by St Peter’s, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon – never leave the capital, either to freshen weary feet in the Mediterranean or cool off in the mountains, despite both being within an hour’s travelling distance from the city. Mr Ranucci says that the regional government must promote the fact that Lazio offers varied experiences for tourists – the sea, national parks and Etruscan remains – all within easy reach of Rome.

Technology parks

It is not surprising that a city that is obsessed with appearances is taking steps to ensure that the two technology parks it is constructing are on the edge of the metropolitan area. Park company Polo Technologico was established just over a decade ago with the express aim of attracting high value-added business projects, improving Greater Rome’s industrial development and addressing the need to employ many of the highly qualified technicians graduating from Roman universities. With the benefit of EU structural funds, it has established two technology parks: Tiburtino and Castel Romano.

Tiburtino, roughly north-east of the city and focused on manufacturing, specialises in ICT, telecommunications, electronics and aerospace, technology transfer and training. Not yet complete, the park’s hub is an elegant complex of 19th-century farm buildings. It is one of the prime contenders for the Galileo space project.

Castel Romano has been operating a little longer. Primarily oriented toward research, it includes a Materials Development Centre, a biomedical science park and an environmental technology park, the mission of which is to prepare and test tools and projects for building a model sustainable city.

Jointly, Tiburtino and Castel Romano are regarded as critical to consolidating the region’s high-tech skill sets. In addition to providing cutting edge technological facilities for partner companies, there is a concerted effort to create new paradigms of life/work balance (there are ambitious plans to transform a nearby hill into a state-of-the-art sporting facility graced with trademark Roman flair). Both will provide users with green spaces, dedicated transport links to Rome’s city centre, business services, conference facilities and technology transfer, and include residential areas and retail facilities.

Outside of the high-tech sector, the regional government is taking a holistic view of its resources and how best to maximise its use of them. Top-of-the-range hotels, resorts and golf courses are being built near the cities of Viterbo and Rieti to tempt tourists out of Rome. Logistics capacities are also being improved and upgraded: airports at Frosinone and Latina are being converted from military to civil use; a major convention centre and exhibition space has been completed near Latina; and continuous improvements are being made to the Roma Container Terminal at Civitavacchia.

Driving force

The region has been greatly helped in its promotional efforts by Sviluppo Lazio, Lazio’s independent regional government agency created to implement a regional economic and territorial marketing programme in 1999, and which describes itself as the “driving force for social and economic change” in the region’s five counties of Roma, Viterbo, Rieti, Frosinone and Latina.

Sviluppo Lazio sees its future as vested in the knowledge economy. It uses its role in disbursing EU structural development funds to accelerate research and development and to ensure its greatest assets and talents have no need to leave the region. This year, Lazio allocated about €13m for a scientific research fund, focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, university research departments and projects; and about €45m over three years for the creation of an Economic Development Research and Innovation Fund, which the agency says has been created to ensure that university research laboratories are fully equipped with modern machinery.

As an inducement for others to establish a footing in the region, Sviluppo Lazio offers a range of financial support packages, including capital contributions of up to 50% of a total investment, bank guarantees of up to 50% of financial aid, tax credits and professional training (depending on size, type and location). It has also done a lot to make sure that Lazio benefits from the growing economies of the east: the regional government recently led a successful business delegation to Beijing and Shanghai.

No complacency

Mr Ranucci, for one, is proud of the strides that the region has made to put itself on the investment map. But he is not complacent. “Having attracted 500 multinationals to the region is a success in its own right but it is also our duty to encourage them to stay,” he says.

To that end, the government is setting up an FDI monitoring unit, which will liaise regularly with the top managers of multinationals to ensure that concerns and desires can be addressed swiftly and adequately.

Although Mr Ranucci says that he would not like to compare Lazio’s success with that of other regions – together, the regions have adopted a philosophy of co-operation and competition that they call “co-opetition” – he does say that, in its core strength areas, he suspects that Lazio has become a benchmark investment destination.