Industrial pride above all else. Or better, “pride in machining” when it comes to the Federmeccanica manifesto on a new strategy for manufacturing, which the federation presented last Thursday in Rome at the event “Uniti per il rilancio dell’industria” (Together to revitalise industry), which saw the involvement of business leaders from more than sixty area branches of Confindustria (including industrial districts, value chains, and the most dynamic companies), all working to send a strong message to government and to politicians (that, without investment, Italy is doomed and that what is needed is new industrial policies that promote innovation and enable businesses to face the challenges of “Industry 4.0”, i.e. the fourth industrial revolution), while at the same time reiterating the capabilities of the country’s business leaders and their commitment to recovery. But looking at the businesses that produce goods and export them, we could also speak of pride in chemicals, in food and agriculture, in home automation, and in pharmaceuticals, or pride in rubber and cement, in wood and textiles, in cars, motorcycles and bicycles, and so on and so forth throughout all of the segments of manufacturing that, despite the crisis, are holding up Italy’s economy and earning points in competitiveness, innovation, growth and the creation of jobs. On its own, the machining sector is worth 8% of GDP and accounts for 45.9% of all of the value added by manufacturing, although it is also struggling under the weight of the drop in production capacity, down 32.6% since 2007, prior to the crisis (largely due to the stagnation of the domestic market). In its various forms, machining represents the most dynamic part of Italian exports, even outperforming the traditional cornerstones of Italy’s production, namely interior design, clothing, and food and agriculture. In short, Italy the “machining breadbasket” to recall the evocative phrase coined way back in the early 1950s by Vittorio Valletta, then the chairman of Fiat, when it was can manufacturing that was the pillar of industrial and social development for the entire nation.
A tradition of machining and an openness to the future, if we think that a good share of the modules of the International Space Station – where we now find the Italian female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti – were made right here in Italy, a fact that well represents Italy’s engineering excellence and the role it plays in the economy as a whole according to Carlo Andrea Finotto, writing in the 25 November edition of Il Sole24Ore.
There is another Italian success story, one that sounds comforting in these difficult times for Italy’s economy, that also depends in large part on the sophisticated growth of this culture of engineering (in the form of innovation, research, and increasingly advanced automation). As reported in Il Sole24Ore on 26 November, Italy leads the way in European patents and innovation is more vibrant than it ever has been. The news is that, in 2014, Italy retained its second place in the international top 20 in filings for industrial design patents at 10.15% of all patent filings worldwide, behind Germany (at 22.7%), but well in front of the United Kingdom (at 6.96), France and Spain, and the country is in a solid fourth place in terms of “brands”, behind Germany, the U.S., and the U.K. Innovation is happening, and a lot of it. We’re filing patents. We’re promoting quality and building brands. We’re competing, and not just in large-scale enterprise, but in small and medium enterprise, too, and in the industrial districts, which are being reborn thanks to unique synergies between their strong ties to areas with extraordinary capacities for manufacturing and their ability to expand internationally in specialist, high-value niches (as reported by Paola Dubini, a professor at Bocconi, in the “Nova” insert of Il Sole24Ore on 26 November). Too bad the public sector still invests far too little in research and innovation, given that, in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available), the only sector that posted growth in research and development spending was that of businesses, up 2.3%, while public sector spending declined 1.3% (source: Confindustria). In fact, in 2012, Italy invested just 1.27% of GDP in research and development, which is far behind the 2.98% of Germany and 2.29% of France.
So businesses are active, but they are being left to stand on their own in terms of innovation, confirmation of the strength of Italy’s brands and patents and a testimony to the marked improvement in the country’s culture of enterprise, of the “fourth capitalism” found throughout the northern part of the nation, of its family businesses that are, none the less, able to face the challenges of business management and of increasingly open, increasingly competitive global markets. Italian industry does have a future, in spite of it all.