The role of Lazio, the central region of Italy, in the aerospace and information communications technology (ICT) sectors dates back to the 1960s and the development of early satellites, such as Intelsat. More recent international projects, such as the Galileo satellite system, have put the region back into the limelight.
The regional government, headed by President Francesco Storace, has promoted the high-tech and ICT sectors for several years. “In 2002,” says Saro Munafň, vice-president of the regional development agency, Sviluppo Lazio, “Lazio invested 3.7% of GDP in high-tech projects, higher than the level of any other Italian region. By providing infrastructure and access to research institutions needed for high-tech firms to thrive, the regional government has created widespread opportunities for companies, small and large, to invest in Lazio.
The region’s political and industrial ambitions to be at the heart of Europe’s flourishing ICT industry are clear. “In the past few years, high-tech and ICT companies have been responsible for creating nearly one new job in 10 in Lazio – higher than any other region in Italy – making the sector a prime candidate for government support,” says Mr Munafň. The agency, a consortium of seven public companies, is 51% owned by the regional government and is charged with developing and fostering business opportunities in the region. Sviluppo Lazio offers a free turn-key service to foreign companies starting up and expanding in the area.
Italy’s workforce is already one of the most competitive in the high-tech sector. “We have one of the highest productivity rates in the high-tech sector together with Germany. And, although the region has low labour costs, foreign companies have also found a great deal of flexibility and low turnover of staff within the high-tech labour pool,” says Mr Munafň
Workers in Italy’s high-tech sector add an astonishing average of more than $80,000 in value each year to the sector. With this level of productivity, it is not surprising that the country’s high-tech industry has reached an annual growth rate of more than 10% in the past three years.
Lazio, which includes Rome and the surrounding area, is emerging as a leader in Italy’s high-tech aerospace and ICT industries. It has 18,000 high-tech companies – 12% of the country’s total – employing 130,000 people, and the highest concentration of research and university centres in Italy. Each year, about 60,000 graduates leave the region’s universities with qualifications needed by companies involved with advanced technologies.
Recognition that Lazio has become a key centre for Italy’s space industry and the ICT industry came in July when the central government signed an agreement with the region to establish Lazio as the one aerospace technology district for Italy, with particular emphasis on satellite communications. In addition to national and regional agreements to support private investment, a funding package of about E60m has been agreed to support both small and large companies working in the growing aerospace cluster.
Dr Carlo Pagliucci, General Manager of CSM and President of Tecnopolo di Castel Romano, one of Rome’s two technology parks, says: “Investors will find an action plan already in place and the national and regional funding framework, including financial aid, already prepared. Regional, national and EU funding lines are open for research projects in this area, particularly for aerospace, which is now a priority.”
Lazio already hosts companies that together offer the entire production chain needed for satellite projects and plays an important role in aircraft development – from design, materials and manufacturing, to launching, servicing and operating systems. Professor Giuseppe Veredice, deputy vice-president responsible for business development at Finmeccanica, Italy’s leading aerospace group, says: “The region, and the Tiburtina area just outside the Roman ring road in particular, has always been active in this sector, due largely to the presence of leading universities, private research centres and outstanding entrepreneurs.”
Lazio’s ICT sector has been lifted in recent years by the launch of several major international and Italian aerospace programmes to provide satellite navigation systems and advanced earth observation. Foremost among these is the Galileo project – the largest European space programme ever launched to provide a global satellite positioning system based on a constellation of satellites offering global coverage. The project will launch 30 satellites in the next four years at a cost of around E3.5bn, directly or indirectly involving many of the region’s companies.
The project took an important step forward last June with a formal co-operation agreement between the EU and US to harmonise operations of the two rival systems, signed by US secretary of state Colin Powell.
Two bids to operate the E1.2bn concession for the next stage of Galileo, which will roll out its services into the commercial marketplace, are being considered by the European Commission and the European Space Agency. “Their decision will have an important impact on all players in the space sector,” says Prof Veredice. Finmeccanica is involved in one of the two consortia competing for the concession. “This is a big opportunity for us to put our knowledge into operation and it gives Lazio an opportunity to take a leadership role in Europe. The [aerospace] industry has decided to remain in Lazio because we believe the regional institutions support this project.” Between 20% and 25% of the E1.2bn budget to operate the Galileo satellites is likely to be spent in Lazio, he says.
“This is the biggest opportunity for the region, as the next 10 years [of Europe’s space programme] are decided and it deserves the government’s full support,” says Prof Veredice. “If the constellation is in our hands, we will launch a large number of applications that will be developed by the region’s small and medium-sized enterprises.”
With massive restructuring going on in Europe’s space industry, Lazio has had to concentrate on key specialties, including space propulsion, satellite construction, advanced materials for thermal protection, satellite antennae and signal processing, and software applications. “We have to rationalise our offer,” says Prof Veredice.
Infrastructure in place
The regional government has already played a crucial role in creating the necessary infrastructure (including two research parks) and supporting the cross-fertilisation of ideas by opening the region’s public research facilities to industrialists.
Finmeccanica’s memorandum of understanding of May 31, 2004, with the Lazio region’s government will create a network of space-related enterprise facilities to maximise the government’s investment in Galileo.
To date, two local companies have been central to the Galileo project: Alenia Spazio and Telespazio. Alenia Spazio is responsible, for example, for building more than one-third of the network of stations that will receive Galileo satellite signals across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
Rome-based Telespazio, together with the German and Swedish space agencies, it is a founding partner in the Galop (Galileo Operation) consortium set up to perform in-orbit validation of the Galileo system.
Much of the remaining work on the Galileo project will be done at the Tiburtino technology park, which has already hosted much of the work done on Galileo. The 72-hectare park is primarily devoted to industrial activities, particularly in aerospace, electronics and ICT.
The Tiburtino and Tecnopolo di Castel Romano parks are managed by the Rome Industrial Technology Park Company, set up six years ago, and both have become a central focus for Lazio’s aerospace and ICT industries. Both fall under the EU’s structural programmes for Objective 2 areas, unlocking significant levels of public investment.
“Our two technology parks are among the best business opportunities Lazio can offer,” says Mr Munafň. “They have excellent synergies, even though they have two distinct roles on two different sites.”
Centro Sviluppo Materiali (CSM), a majority privately-owned research and technology centre in the Castel Romano area, is involved in design, production and application of advanced materials, for example titanium alloys, Ti metal matrix composite materials and special metals and ceramics used in space and aircraft.
Dr Pagliucci expects a decision on a plan to expand CSM’s facilities by the end of the year.
“Lazio is a fast-growing market,” says Mr Munafň. “Our mission is to foster the potentiality of our land in order to meet the interest of investors. We will use all our means to make this come true with no costs for investors. Sviluppo Lazio’s investment team provides investors with exhaustive documentation on available sites, existing investment opportunities and locations of specific interest.
“Contacts with the local territory and institutions are readily made available, market studies and all information on existing financial support are promptly given – all with the aim of giving investors the advantage of the best opportunities in Lazio.”