Extraordinary mechanical tailors. These are the best Italian companies. Along with mechatronics, chemical and pharmaceutical, rubber and plastic, as well as, naturally, agri-food, furnishings and clothing companies. Bespoke tailors. Unrivalled the world over. In producing a “hex socket head bolt”, a special screw for ultra-sophisticated applications in the automotive or aeronautical industries. A mechanical joint made of innovative materials. A high-tech lathe. A robot. But also an avant-garde drug. Or a high-tech tyre. And a packaging plant which is evolving in keeping with the evolution of “digital” technologies that connect manufacturing machines and “big data“. This is where the international competitive force of our industry lies. Well beyond the obvious and well-known “Made in Italy” excellence of beauty, of fashion, of jewellery and of luxury.

A stimulating portrait of this was given to Italian diplomats throughout the world, who gathered in Milan at Assolombarda in the morning and at Pirelli HangarBicocca in the afternoon of Thursday 27th July to conclude the 12th Conference of Ambassadors: diplomacy as the cornerstone of economic policy, the close relationship between Farnesina and companies as leverage for better competitiveness and the development of the country. #Vivereallitaliana was the successful hashtag of the conference. Documented by Nando Pagnoncelli’s Ipsos with research on how much the world appreciates “the Italian lifestyle”.

In the afternoon of this particular Thursday, when the press agencies heralded the news that French President Macron “was nationalising” the Stx shipyards to block their acquisition by the Italian Fincantieri (a short-sighted nationalism destined for a host of difficulties), a certain dose of economic patriotism was natural, between politics and companies, which resounded in the debate in Milan. Provided, however, they go beyond mere emotions and controversy and always keep in mind three things.

The first is that the “Italianness” of companies goes beyond the simple census of ownership of the majority shareholdings. The second is that Italian companies need to be more far-sighted in making international acquisitions (going beyond the industries in which we are already very dynamic, such as that of food and drink) also clashing with rooted nationalism (and here the role of Farnesina and more in general of the government is fundamental). And the third, which is essential, is that the best substance of the “Italian lifestyle” lies not in the albeit excellent lasagne, in wine or in fancy amazing clothing by the most creative designers (praiseworthy, however, are Dolce & Gabbana who at the beginning of July gathered a small crowd of international VIPs in Palermo, creating a fantastic show of luxury and beauty). But it lies above all in the mechanical heart. In the “Industry 4.0” that the Renzi government before and the Gentiloni government now (with the decisive role of Minister for Development Calenda) have rightly decided to stimulate, with fiscal aid for those who invest and innovate.

Hence the value of mechanical tailors, mechatronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals,… which we mentioned earlier and with which Prime Minister Gentiloni has had direct experience taking half a day’s tour of the factories in Brianza, on 24 July, amid entrepreneurs, engineers, specialised workers and seeing up close what is meant by innovation and “digital manufacturing” in companies in the mechanical and furnishing industries.

“The craftsman’s touch of hi tech Italy”, writes Stefano Micelli (“IlSole24Ore”, 27 July), noting how “the tailor-made manufacturing model is the distinguishing feature of those medium-sized enterprises that represent, even according to recent data from the ICE, the most dynamic component of our exports”. Micelli mentions the considerations made during the Symbola summer seminar by Alessandro Profumo, Chairmain of Leonardo Finmeccanica (one of the largest Italian companies) on the ability to “customise” the offer of planes and helicopters after carefully listening to the customers’ needs (an aptitude that neither the Americans nor the Germans nor the French are able to express). Similar considerations are made by Sonia Bonfiglioli, head of one of the most dynamic medium-sized metal mechanics companies, rooted in Emilia and with activities all over the world: she also speaks of “tailor-made manufacturing” and responding to international customers with “cutting-edge technological solutions”.

Of course, the best Italian companies invest. And they drive the recovery. This is documented, again in an original way, by Marco Fortis (“Il Foglio”, 26 and 29 July), writing “against the Vulgate of Italy that invests little or nothing” and noting that “in the 2014-2016 three-year period, Italian businesses have increased their investments in machinery, means of transport and patents by 10.8%. In comparison, Germany has gone up by 9.7%. The acceleration of Italy was more notable especially in the last two years: 8.3% more against 4.6% more in Germany”.

The economic recovery that is clearly discernible (1.3% rise in GDP in 2017, according to the government, FMI and Confindustria) is strongly determined by innovative industry: machines and mechanical appliances, metallurgy, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Fortis insists: “In the three months from March to May 2017, the turnover of the Italian manufacturing industry increased by 6.4% compared to last year. Germany, which is also experiencing a phase of significant expansion, went up by 5%”. Industry, precisely. Or rather, “Industry 4.0”, the Italian way. Innovative, “digital”. Tailor-made. The strength of medium-sized enterprises, of “pocket multinationals”. “The Italian lifestyle”, as Farnesina likes to say, is precisely this dimension. To be valued, to understand, to illustrate well, and to support abroad.

01/08/2017