Territorial competitiveness

The Province of Varese: An Area on the Move

The Province of Varese: An Area on the Move”: the vision for the future of the territory of the Province developed in the study carried out by The European House – Ambrosetti for Confartigianato Imprese Varese, presented on March 13 in Varese.

The Province of Varese: Scenarios for the Future

““The Province of Varese: An Area on the Move” is an excellent way of describing the outlook for the future of this area outlined in the study prepared by The European House – Ambrosetti for Confartigianato Imprese Varese and on the basis of a comprehensive survey of the province through 30 meetings with local leaders from government and institutions, the business community and society at large.

The outlook is based on seven guideline proposals:

  1. Capitalize on existing assets and expertise, promoting strategies for economic and industrial co-development and interacting pro-actively with neighboring areas.
  2. Strengthen the strategic sectors that are highly productive and resilient that already exist in the area, aiming towards leadership in highly-specialized manufacturing sectors (aerospace, chemicals/pharmaceuticals, rubber/plastics, machinery and engineering, etc.).
  3. Support the size upgrading of the many small-sized companies.
  4. Become an advanced mobility hub and promote environmental quality and the industrial chains connected with sustainability from the standpoint of their attractiveness and distinctiveness, to become a province of reference for green technologies and the circular economy. Proposals:
    1. Launch a start-up incubator focused on specific high-tech areas;
    2. Develop an industrial chain of high-tech solutions to be integrated into public and private mobility projects.
  5. Develop a distinctive industrial and service position within the sport and nature chain to become one of the leading areas of reference on a national level. For example:
  6. propose Varese as a candidate for being a European Capital of Sport;
  7. in October 2020, organize a special event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Tre Valli Varesine cycling race.
  8. Build a strong and attractive image for the area based on its manufacturing DNA, as well as its connection to values tied to the “active life”, wellness and sustainability.
  9. Launch an iconic initiative capable of catalyzing international interest in the area, by creating, for example:
  10. an itinerary based on the 14 stations of the Varese Sacro Monte which reflect the points of excellence in the north and south of the province;
  11. design-intensive architectural projects that could become iconic landmarks and/or events with wide appeal.

The mission of the “The Province of Varese: Scenarios for the Future” initiative is to render concrete a unifying vision of excellence for the development of the area around the province of Varese within a broad-based context of the pre-Alpine area, Lombardy and the macro-area of Italy’s northwest. This would include identifying actions and main guidelines for economic and social growth and creating the conditions for reinforcing relations with Lombardy and its economy, as well as neighboring provinces.

This study—which examined the social-economic trends in the province over the last 25 years and analyzed the annual reports of over 1,500 manufacturing companies in the area—has identified 10 strong points on which the area can depend and to use as a base for future development. Industry in the province of Varese is highly specialized in design, production and research in major, high-productivity manufacturing sectors: engineering and metal-working (1/3 of the province’s exports in 2017), chemicals-pharmaceuticals (4th-ranked Italian province for number of employees and 6th for number of local units), plastics (3rd-ranked province in Lombardy for exports) and aircraft production (#1 province in Lombardy for the export of aerospace products). In addition, the area ranks above the Italian average and is #3 in Lombardy for density of manufacturing companies (7.2 per km2) and SMEs (17.6 per km2). Exports are also one of the strong points of the province which, after Brescia and Bergamo, is one of the “cornerstones” of Lombardy exports, with a balance of trade that has been continuously positive since 1991. This is also thanks to the infrastructural networks throughout the area. To name only a few: the Malpensa international airport (#2 in Italy for passenger traffic and #1 for goods); inclusion of the rail network in the Rhine-Alpine TEN-T rail corridor; and the Busto Arsizio intermodal terminal (one of the most important in southern Europe).

High standard of living (excluding the metropolitan areas of Milan and Turin, Varese is the #1 Italian province for number of municipalities in the top 100 of highest income per taxpayer), sustainable development (#3 Italian province for share of companies that invest in green solutions and share of urban waste recycling out of the total, at a level of 75.2%), artistic and natural heritage (#1 Lombardy province for number of UNESCO sites and #3 per hectare of protected natural resources per inhabitant) and high-level of sports activity (#2 Lombardy province in the sports index for volleyball, swimming, tennis and water sports)—are other aspects of the area’s excellence.

There are, however, a number of problem areas to be faced: the province is facing a drop in population and is below Lombardy and Italy as a whole for the birth rate per 1,000 inhabitants (7.5 vs. 7.9 in Lombardy and 7.6 in Italy), average age (45.5 vs. 45.0 in Lombardy and 44.9 nationally), structural dependency index (58.7 vs. 56.8 in Lombardy and 55.8 nationally) and share of the population in working age, which between 2005 and 2018 dropped sharply (from 67.1% to 63.0%) compared with Italy as a whole (from 66.3% to 64.1%). In addition, Varese is one of the provinces that has suffered most from the economic crisis and is one of the four areas in Lombardy that has taken the most time to return to pre-crisis levels (8 years). If the annual growth level seen in Lombardy between 2008 and 2017 were to be applied to the province of Varese, it would have surpassed 2008 levels in just three years and would have a value added higher than current levels of nearly €2 billion. Manufacturing in Varese has suffered significantly, with a growth rate of just 4.5% compared with levels in the year 2000, as opposed to +55.2% for Lombardy manufacturing and +44.4% nationally. Entrepreneurial activity in relation to other Lombardy provinces places Varese in next-to-last place per density of innovative start-ups (3.3%). The wealth gap within the area (131.3% between the top five and bottom five municipalities in the province) is second only to the province of Como (165.3%). The wealth gap between the most- and least-rich municipality (204%) is nearly double that between Lombardy and Calabria (135%) and is three times higher than that between Germany and Greece. Finally, the province of Varese has a low web presence and its 3.7% visibility rating puts it fourth-to-last among Lombardy provinces.

“To render concrete the strategic development plan for the province of Varese,” says Valerio De Molli (Managing Partner & CEO, The European House – Ambrosetti), “we also propose that a permanent, multi-stakeholder think tank be created as a means for offering guidelines and managing change in the area“.

Goals to achieve:

  • Providing detailed validation of the analysis offered and approving the strategic priorities for development.
  • Identifying and activating the investment funds required.
  • Maintaining attention and “pressure” alive on the implementation process.
  • Creating an annual event (“Area Update”) to provide ongoing information regarding the initiative.”

“The study and the people attending the meeting show that interesting changes are emerging in this area with experience capable of looking to the future. Our job, from this moment on, will be to connect these experiences and changes, bring them to the fore and transform them into examples of excellence through opening discussion as much as possible and offering the opportunities and means for meeting and sharing ideas. We will be working in this direction and we will be doing so both outside formal channels as well as involving government and institutions in a process that is already underway in the area”- notes Davide Galli, president of Confartigianato Imprese Varese.

Galli continues: “Confartigianato Imprese Varese believes in this study, convinced that it can be a useful contribution to halting the slowdown in the province of Varese. This is the moment to make the change—together—and to do so by uniting the economic, cultural and social forces. We must work in synergy if we want to turn the situation around. We must not forget that it was from the desire to reverse a negative situation that the Aree di Confine proposed law was born, around which forces and voices united to turn the initiative into legislation, which now we hope to see transformed into something truly concrete.”

The results of the initiative were presented on Wednesday, March 13th to representatives of government and institutions, the business community, media and opinion leaders from the area, who met at Ville Ponti in Varese. In additon to the President and Director General of Confartigianato Imprese Varese, Davide Galli and Mauro Colombo, and the Managing Partner and CEO di The European House – Ambrosetti Valerio De Molli, speakers also included national, regional and provincial representatives of government and institutions: Dario Galli (Vice Minister of Economic Development), Attilio Fontana (President of the Lombardy Region) and Emanuele Antonelli (President of the Province of Varese). Moderator of the meeting was Paolo Fratter from SkyTG24.

Report “The Province of Varese: Scenarios for the Future” (Italian version)

 Strategic Tableau de Bord (Italian version)

Valerio De Molli’s speech (Italian version)

Executive Summary (Italian version)

Press Review (Italian version)

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