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Advantages of the Alicante ecosystem in the digital economy was originally published in the newspaper Información with the title Position Alicante in the global world
It is a magnificent opportunity to take advantage of the 75th anniversary of Information to reflect on the future of Alicante, in today's digital world, as requested by the editors. Perhaps it would be interesting to previously answer the question: What does it mean to position yourself in the global world today? Simplifying to the maximum: “compete and survive successfully in the society of our time”, with all that it implies: a digital society, with strong disruptive innovations and with accelerated changes that require a permanent productive and technological reinvention.
I have summarized in ten factors what in my opinion is important to position Alicante in the global world. In 3,500 words as the editors have literally asked me. I am very aware of what Bill Gates mentioned a few years ago: "If someone is so reckless that they think they know everything, creating a startup will help them understand that the world is deep and complicated."
Developing and retaining talent (and being serious about attracting it)
If a local economy does not want to be left in the “tow of the world” it must manage to generate talent, retain it and attract it internationally. We are talking about the talent of the 21st century: digital, creative and globally competitive.
In recent years, Alicante, like the rest of Spain, has not put much focus on this issue, rather the opposite. The “big game” of the world economy is played in the knowledge economy and with top-level assets in disciplines such as Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Genome ... applied to almost everything (tourism, industry, construction, services, health ...). The great global struggle will be the ability of each country and region to attract top-level talent that disseminates high-profile innovations, without forgetting attitudes and skills.
In recent years in Spain and Alicante we have done the opposite. We have outside many of our talented young people who succeed abroad, researchers, entrepreneurs and even construction entrepreneurs ... The first task is therefore to retain talent, the second to develop it much more and better and the last to attract it. I will talk about this later and it has a lot to do with changes in our economic policy, in our universities, and with exploiting our attractive quality of life and excellent infrastructure.
Promote digital and technological entrepreneurship (without hypocrisy)
Both things go together. It is useless to promote entrepreneurship, if then managing and maintaining the competitiveness of a company becomes a martyrdom. We need new companies, in sectors of the future that pay their taxes, create quality jobs and grow globally.
With an unemployment rate of 22.7 per cent and a rare hybridization of companies, it is necessary to find solid ways in the short, medium and long term. We must encourage the creation of companies in sectors of the future. We must digitize our economy with the same force that we industrialized or outsourced it a few decades ago.
Our social culture encourages young people to access public employment (or work for others) and at the same time our system condemns them to be autonomous. If we invite them to be entrepreneurs, we do so largely thinking that we are "launching" them into a more than probable failure, yes, already with a growing awareness that failure is formative.
On the other side there is a rare miscegenation of companies. On the one hand, a significant percentage of companies that live in the public sector (by bidding, regulation, even, let's be clear, by cronyism and corruption). On the other, a hidden and precarious economy (which according to estimates may represent a quarter! Of the total) and finally legal companies (a very high percentage of SMEs) that try to survive by complying with all the rules and regulations, and competing in a increasingly demanding and disruptive global environment. The existence and entity of the first two greatly harms the third segment, that is, the companies that are the basis and fundamental pillar of a solid and future-oriented economic system.
This is where the central, regional and local administrations have to act: they can and must do many things.
Generate a friendly and healthy system for companies (if they have a better future)
In terms of business regulations we have a public sector that tends to engulf business activity. We will be inviting young people with an entrepreneurial spirit to start their companies abroad or to finally “dive” or live at the ebb of the Administration and its battered budget.
The business mortality rate in Spain, and especially in a province like Alicante, should raise all the alerts. A friendly and solid system must be generated for the survival of entrepreneurs and serious companies, the legal ones:
End the complex superfluous and unnecessary overregulation in all aspects: labor, tax, aid regulations, licenses ... Local, regional and state overlapping regulations, sometimes even contradictory.
Improve control and inspection and avoid a whole “preventive” tangle that ends up in staff files.
In short, simplify and make efficient the relationship with the Administrations and legal obligations. Otherwise we will be inviting companies to immerse themselves or go to other more friendly environments. It must be remembered that for example, for a digital company the cost of relocating internationally is much lower than for a traditional company.
Paradoxically, we have achieved that the large companies that grow and have magnificent health are the large multinational consultancies delighted with "saving" companies from the legal tangle, regulatory occurrences, unnecessary over-regulation ... In short, additional costs for local companies that must compete globally.
How can Alicante be a “friendly” territory for the companies of the future?
Allowing you to create a company in 24 hours (as in many serious sites worldwide), putting a "red carpet" for those who want to undertake and establishing effective controls for compliance with their fundamental legal obligations (tax, labor, etc.)
Promoted the location of startups and digital companies throughout the territory. Many PGOUs allow law firms or companies, architects, doctors, economists, etc. but not from technology companies since computing did not exist as a professional office a few decades ago.
Leaving it exempt from certain legal obligations at least for a significant period that allows it to focus on making the idea or project viable.
Giving effective and real support for free. Support requested, not bureaucratically invented in "laboratory".
Promoting a digital and technological culture in the environment: cities, buildings, open data, innovations ...
Supporting indigenous technology companies so that they can "test" their products and services in our environment.
In Mountain View (Silicon Valley headquarters of Google, Linkedin and many other well-known companies) if a company wants to locate there, it has all the information on the official website. The company can fill out an online form on the website with all its data. From there they name you a person who turns to helping you and facilitating everything. That is, the Administration, instead of being bureaucratic, becomes proactive to help and attract future companies, talent and generate employment.
And to conclude this section, this has nothing to do with governments of the right or the left. It is simply a matter of being or not being. To give a solid answer for the future to 165,000 unemployed and as many precarious employees or to put more patches, more incentives to precariousness, or to invite the underground economy to grow.
Create a digital environment at the local level. Make things happen ...
The digital bet of the Administrations can have a negligible cost and at the same time very relevant results. The entire province of Alicante should have a very proactive digital strategy. Examples?
Connectivity Some municipalities in European countries with very similar regulations to the Spanish have achieved a “large Wi-Fi space” in their cities. How? In a very simple way: coordinating that their areas of influence (buses, municipal and public buildings) and associated public or private spaces (university campuses, shopping centers, restaurants, etc.) are accessed with a single registry and passwords.
Open Data and local transparency. With the safeguard of due privacy, all information must be open. All digitized if it is paper and all databases accessible not only to the public but subject to the exploitation of researchers and users. Big Data and Machine Learning is an industry of the future. It would be necessary to be a reference.
Selective and efficient sensing. Sensorization is cheap and allows you to revolutionize many of the facets. Each municipality should have its own and active strategy around issues such as Smart Cities and the Internet of Things.
Technology that the citizen and the visitor perceive. Open information on mobile: audio guides. It is curious that the Alicante technology of the startup Blabup (which I personally support) is being of interest in Dubai, Madrid or Cartagena de Indias and there is an analog attitude in municipalities here.
Fight to attract and organize national and international events linked to the digital economy and the sectors of the future. Barcelona had a before and after after the World Mobile Congress. Almost the entire world of technology has been there. On a smaller scale, there are companies, engineers, startups that are looking forward to serious events to network and learn about the "state of the art" in hundreds of technological topics. The province of Alicante is a very attractive site if the organizers are credible, the events relevant, creative, modern ... especially a highly praiseworthy creative capacity has been shown with the “EN know how” (Now Alicante Encounters).
Political leadership and creation of a technological culture in society, a society 3.0
Silicon Valley aside, someone had the leadership and vision in other parts of the world. With better or worse results and bridging the differences: Bangalore in India, Singapore, Dublin, Bristol or Malaga are absorbing an interesting digital potential. The so-called digital nomads are changing some expectations of such unexpected cities as Chiang Mai (Thailand), Puerto Viejo (Costa Rica), Florianópolis (Brazil), Budapest, and even Javea appears on the list thanks to the initiative of Jon and Edu (sun -and-co.com).
A digital or technological culture, allows from exploiting the potential of Alicante's afternoon such as after hours networking or creating a predisposition to be "early adopters" (pioneers in the adoption of innovations and new technological proposals).
What is clear is that positioning a city globally in the present and future will increasingly have to do with our capacity and receptivity to assimilate innovations and disruptive changes. Europe as a whole is not being a good practice, but this represents an opportunity for those cities or territories that do exploit their digital potential.
Everything would be more viable and easier when promoting a culture of change, reinvention and the assimilation of disruptive innovations if this trend is supported by institutions or through political leadership. Whether we like it or not, digital carries a good dose of "revolution", publishers, banks, taxis or hotels are already fully aware of this.
Realistically exploit the potential of universities
In the matter at hand, the role of universities is fundamental. There are many confusing debates surrounding this. For example, in my opinion it is not a problem of rankings or of governance (perhaps if it were, we would be facing a serious problem). Comparing any Spanish university with Stanford, MIT or Harvard is absolutely crazy. The latter has endowments (own capital that cannot be translated into expenses but the profitability of its investment) of more than 30,000 million dollars. The amount of this capital almost reaches the value of "global" Spanish companies such as Telefónica or BBVA. Let's not ask the UA or the UMH (or any Spanish university) what is not reasonable. They both have extraordinary researchers and it is a unique achievement of exceptional value that one of our professors is a candidate for a Nobel Prize in Medicine.
In my opinion, our universities should be asked to be more involved with their environment. Especially when developing and retaining talent. Also when it comes to anticipating the sectors of the future and helping companies to assimilate and even take advantage of disruptive innovations. And this must be encouraged since our teachers logically what they do is efficiently comply with the incentives (five-year, six-year, three-year…) imposed by a system that corresponds to an economy of decades ago.
Given the speed of change, the challenge is to anticipate the demands of companies. Education policy must identify the sectors of the future and provide budgetary provision for these areas. Making it clear that basic research must be safeguarded, today it would be of extraordinary potential to have engineers already trained in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, certain programming languages, among others. This, not to mention genome sequencing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, digital economy, digital marketing ... Very relevant sectors for the Alicante economy such as tourism, construction or the footwear industry would be the great beneficiaries by technologically nourishing themselves from these competitive factors.
Learn from the new benchmarks of the new Alicante economy
The future of the economy is not written in any book. We are writing it together. In the digital economy creating a culture of success is as important as not stigmatizing failure. In Alicante there are good practices and success stories that are giving us an extraordinary light. In recent years, against all odds, in the midst of the crisis, very interesting activities and businesses have emerged. These achievements must be celebrated and given more prominence and visibility. We must turn the page on the real estate bubble and the disappearance of the CAM. I am referring to hits like:
A new generation of successful technological entrepreneurs with projects of the greatest international relevance: Andrés Torrubia, Javier Garcia, Angel Pineda… The appearance of globally successful companies such as Hawkers in Elche. From Alcoy (AdSalsa) to Elda (From the Bench) passing through Finestrat (Energy Sistem) and digital services companies with national projection (Human Level, Orizon…), among many others. Eduardo Manchón (Panoramio), gathered in the Hacker Club a hundred digital companies of the greatest reference interest.
The conquest of the most demanding demand markets in the world. This is the case of the Sha Wellness Clinic surrounded by an environment of mass tourism and born in the toughest crisis situation.
The reinvention of the real estate sector and construction activity. Local companies such as ECISA that have become spectacularly international in very complex and difficult markets. It has also been the case of real estate marketing to foreign markets with high purchasing power. In line with this process of real estate reinvention, the “servicers” have appeared, companies that market real estate assets (bank portfolios, Sareb…) and with big data techniques. A good base to accommodate a potential Solvia headquarters in Alicante.
A new way of managing the public sector. In search of transparency and efficiency. Since the introduction of new management styles (SUMA, for example) success of projects such as the Elche Business Park, the Campus of the University of Alicante or pioneering initiatives such as L´Alfas Intelligence.
In the world educational revolution of MOOCs, Alicante is an international benchmark. Both for UNIMOOC (240,000 entrepreneurs from 100 countries) and for developing technology from here for Google and its international training program ACTíVATE. Before, national technological projects have been carried out in Alicante of the greatest importance such as Resources on the Net, The M. Virtual Cervantes Library, among others.
The expansion of digital commerce of the footwear industry. Some Alicante companies have shown an extraordinary ability to do digital marketing and conquer international markets through the Internet. The potential of this route is immense. To highlight the entrepreneurial capacity that many companies created more than 20 years ago, linked to the world of footwear, are having - Pikolinos, Mustang, Gioseppo, Hispanitas, Rebeca Sanver, now adding the Tempe phenomenon that far from having remained at the tail of innovation They have known how to adapt to times of crisis and relocation and are now a world benchmark in this sector.
The new concept of resorts, the new architecture of buildings and the capture of international demand segments with high purchasing power with companies that maintain a large volume of investment in this crisis (for example, Grupo Marjal)
The potential and reality of the Alicante "Health Cluster" and its magnificent positioning in the development of personalized medicine based on high technologies. The emergence of new technology projects like MedBravo is great news.
The great international projection and prestige of Alicante gastronomy. It has achieved international excellence through nationally and globally recognized chefs based on creativity and the greatest innovation. From Denia to Vega Baja.
A new way of creating creative and global culture. The International Master of the Guitar and the initiatives to develop the world capital are of enormous value. They mark a trend for us, because it has also developed from the push of civil society. Nothing to do with the topic of Alicante "menfotism".
And I am sure that he left me hundreds of cases more than due to ignorance I do not cite and they will be of the greatest interest. Well yes, there are green shoots, and harvest. A part of the entrepreneurs are competing worldwide and successfully. They are taking steps of extraordinary value in the subject that concerns us: the global positioning of Alicante.
Company culture: Good is the enemy of Great
Thus begins the first chapter of the famous work by Jim Collins, one of the most widely read books in the United States in relation to the success factors of global companies (Good to Great) and is a magnificent summary of the entity of the effort they have to do companies to no longer succeed but survive in the global world. "Good" or "good" is not enough. Companies that are installed in the comfort zone of "good" in the medium term have a serious problem of competitiveness.
Hence, the development, retention and attraction of talent is essential. The activity in the company, its product, its service, its innovation, requires excellence to compete globally. For this reason, I cited Alicante companies that are today benchmarks: they fight for excellence every day. Hence also that it is of utmost importance that local governments facilitate favorable conditions and efficient ecosystems that help generate “great”. I have already mentioned both things above.
Take advantage of our magnificent infrastructure and quality of life (without dying of success)
In this matter, we Alicante can die of success. In any forum in our province chest is usually taken. Just a decade ago to play in the "Champion league" of the global economy, it was enough with an industrialized and outsourced economy supported by modern infrastructure and a certain human capital. We are witnessing a paradigm shift.
In the heart of Silicon Valley, traffic collapses daily on University Avenue in Palo Alto. Nobody loses their nerves, the engines stop and the drivers start their phones and work productively. In Alicante the traffic is usually extraordinarily fluid in comparison, even in August.
The city Bristol (equivalent in population to Alicante and Elche), is witnessing, despite Brexit, a great construction fever even higher than the Alicante “brick fever” of a decade ago. It is not driven by tourist or demographic demand but rather by its digital expansion. Its infrastructures such as the airport or the railway are a very small category if we compare them with those of Alicante.
The digital society has changed the rules. The development of the digital, global and knowledge-based economy, fundamentally technological innovation, weights other factors mentioned above on which, if not worked, it is impossible to advance significantly.
Traditional infrastructures (airport, port, highways, high-speed trains ...) are a great asset for any territory, but by themselves they are not a sufficient condition for the take-off of the digital economy or the attraction of talent.
It is true that Alicante is currently in an almost unbeatable situation with an international airport, with very modern facilities barely exploited and with more than 75 connections between them daily to large international hubs such as Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt. A high-speed train that connects you to the center of Spain in just over two hours. A crossroads of highways, etc. Without a doubt, a great asset for tourism and for the economy as a whole. However, the digital economy is driven by other factors ...
The quality of life in Alicante: climate, maritime environment, gastronomy, heritage… is exceptional. By uniting quality of life, more infrastructure, we frequently postulated ourselves as the European Silicon Valley… Make no mistake, although the senior officials of the OHIM are delighted to live in Alicante and my friends, the Japanese from Cookpad, there is also an ocean away. It is not impossible to attract digital nomads and attract digital companies, but we are a considerable distance from something like the SV.
Joining efforts: the image of a competitive territory and gradually forming an innovation ecosystem
It gives the impression if we read any local media that despite the seriousness of the economic and financial situation of our Administrations, each one seems to have a strategy on its own.
There is much to do in common, especially when it comes to creating the image of a competitive territory and where everyone wins. The Silicon Valley ecosystem is not in a city, they practically all participate and live in the same ecosystem and exploit it in such a different way that it includes agriculture in Modesto, tourism in Napa Valley or technology companies that are located in Mountain View, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Cupertino, San José ...
The province of Alicante can be a magnificent ecosystem if they join forces to generate a “friendly” ecosystem for future companies, for entrepreneurs, for the startups of our engineers and doctors. All your municipalities can win. The lack of vision on the Alicante - Elche issue is extremely serious, in what we comment.
A final digression
Allow me a brief final digression. Just two or three decades ago, in my Department of our Faculty of Economics we felt full when we mentioned and explained the economic miracle of Alicante to foreign students and professors. The thrust of a decentralized economy in dozens of cities and towns, the joint potential of two cities like Alicante - Elche, the rich provincial productive diversification and expanding tourism throughout the coastline. An export business DNA that did business impossible in half the world, with the courage to conquer complex markets. In short: the fourth Spanish province in GDP, and all this despite the fact that it was always aggrieved in terms of public investments.
Alicante closed 2020 with 206,300 unemployed and with an unemployment rate of 22.96%, the highest by province in the Valencian Community. In just two decades the benchmark model has been struck down. Not in the worst nightmares did a person from Alicante ever dream of something like this (real estate and financial upheaval that wiped out the benchmark companies).
It is urgent to close the stage. Alicante is in a position to position itself in the future. I insist: there are green shoots and harvest.
Final Note: For the preparation of parts of this article I had the support of members of the AlicanTEC Association (a source of inspiration), friendly companies in Silicon Valley and of members of the think-tanks that we do in Alicante.