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Italy's top five export industries

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Latest reports released on 13 November 2009 from Bloomberg show Italy has emerged from recession and GDP has grown by 0.6%.

The recovery of Germany and France, the country's largest export markets, also sounded a note of optimism.

Mechanical machinery and equipment

Italy's engineering sector, covering mechanical machinery and equipment, is now the second largest in the EU and fast catching up with leading manufacturer Germany. It produced 18.7% of machinery in the EU in 2008 and also made significant gains in Russia, Africa and South America.

The sector is dominated by small, family-owned businesses, with the average size of workforce being around 13 people, which is the lowest in Europe. There are over 41,000 manufacturing and engineering companies in Italy and while some claim the sector's strength lies in the very personal and 'small is beautiful' approach of a family business, others claim that this is a risky strategy as old-fashioned attitudes and family loyalties may impede progress in a global market.

Considering Italy has very few mineral resources and has to import most of its raw material, its metal industry is a large and important one in the nation's economy, particularly regarding exports

 

Italy's growing success in the sector has been through focussing on its strengths - quality of design and steady output of mid-range engineering products from small, flexible companies with their sites firmly set on the world markets.
Basic metals and fabricated metal products

Considering Italy has very few mineral resources and has to import most of its raw material, its metal industry is a large and important one in the nation's economy, particularly regarding exports. Half of the country's iron output comes from the Isola d'Elba off the coast of Tuscany.

Italy has 50,000 businesses and 850,000 workers in the metal industry, the majority in the north. In the iron and steel industry many of the large companies are in the centre and south of the country.

Transport equipment

Italy's automobile industry is the country's largest employer with an estimated (2004) 196,000 employees. The automobile sector is dominated by Fiat which ranks number ten in the world's top motor vehicle manufacturing companies, although as a country Italy ranks only 17th in terms of motor vehicle producing countries.

Fiat went into partnership with US auto manufacturer Chrysler in May 2009, a clear indication that is now seeking to conquer international markets after its dominance of the domestic one. It also intends to bring the Alfa Romeo back to the US market.

The company posted its highest ever profits in the last quarter of 2008, defying the global downturn. As well as production and export of iconic luxury brands like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati, the transport export sector also includes city cars, passenger vehicles, transport vehicles, trailers, and auto parts and accessories.

The government's introduction of incentives to trade in older cars for more energy efficient ones has resulted in new car registrations rising by 16% in October.

Chemical products and synthetic fibres

This is a crucial sector for Italy With a turnover of 57bn it is the fourth largest chemical producer in the EU. There are three thousand companies in the sector employing around 126,000 people.

Of the 200 or so industrial districts in Italy, almost all have some connection with the chemical industry. The main concentration of Italy's chemical business is in the north of the country, which accounts for 68% of the chemical companies. Lombardy (Lombardia) alone accounts for almost half of that percentage and is the top region in Europe in terms of number of companies in the chemical industry and second largest region in terms of employees.

 

Italian association Fedechimica conducted a recent survey on why foreign companies appreciated doing business with the Italian chemical industry and the top factors included: the quality of human resources, the market size and quality of customers, the quality and reliability of equipment suppliers and the quality of R&D.

The spread of ownership in the Italian chemical industry is 41% Italian SMEs, 23% medium and large Italian companies and 36% foreign companies.

In June 2009 Italian oil and gas group ENI announced it was investing 700m in the industry between 2009 and 2012.

Electrical equipment, electrical, electronic and optical apparatus

Estimates put the value of the global electronics market at $2tn per year, $275bn of that is on semiconductors. The sector has suffered from the global economic crisis, but analyst firm Gartner reported in October 2009 that the industry is showing signs of recovery, although this will not stabilise until 2010, with mobile phones expected to lead the recovery.

Italy's electronics industry suffered a decline at the end of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, but a recent report by the ISAE (Istituto di Studi e Analisi Economica) on how the industry itself felt about recovery showed that companies in the centre and south of Italy felt more optimistic about the future. This was probably because they were less affected by the international market while the larger companies in the north west and north east had been harder hit and so were more cautious. That said, the signs of recovery are more widespread in the north.

Another report from the Servizio Studi e Ricerche di Intesa Sanpaolo focussed on the vital role of human resources in the electronics industry. The sector employs 6.8% of Italy's manufacturing workforce and has the highest percentage of workers in the EU The sector has seen a 10% rise in the number of highly skilled white collar workers in the last 10 years from 20% in 1997 to 30% in 2007, higher than other manufacturing industries.

Add to this the high percentage of high-skilled blue-collar workers and the electronics industry in Italy has one of the most highly skilled workforces in Europe, with the exception of Garmany.

Italy continues to invest in renewable energy and this, combined with the government's aim to invest in the south of the country has led to some interesting developments. Northern Italian photovoltaic and solar power plant construction company Enerqos plc of Milan, has a €1bn contract with NextEnergy Capital and is building four solar in Puglia, in the heel of Italy's boot. The company also has a licence for projects in Sicily.

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