Do-it-yourself Investors Don’t Go Too Far

In the context of SPS Italy, on May 29th, AIdAM promoted the conference titled “4.IT New Business: opportunities and development in Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia and Tunisia”. A moment of information, discussion and debate – especially for those SMEs willing to approach foreign markets – which dealt with several issues: from the role of Italy in Europe and the Mediterranean to the issues of training and availability of skilled labour, up to the new trends in automotive. Here’s a report about what was said during the round table.

by Giorgia Stella

Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia, Tunisia. But also Africa as a whole and the middle-eastern shore of the Mediterranean. A long and articulated journey through business opportunities, while remaining in Parma, the city that hosted the event “4.IT New Business: opportunities and development in Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia and Tunisia”, promoted by AIdAM.
The final part of the event hosted indeed a round table, moderated by Fabrizio Dalle Nogare from the editorial staff of Soluzioni di Assemblaggio & Meccatronica, and attended by Matteo Mariani, Secretary General of the Italian-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Piero Cannas, President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland; Denise Salustri, Secretary General of the Tunisian-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Irena Brajovic, Director of Confindustria Serbia, and Filippo Codara, Vice President of Confindustria Assafrica e Mediterraneo.

Investment success stories
Mr Codara, General Manager of Morsettitalia, who defines himself as “a commuter entrepreneur of the Mediterranean”, spoke about the landing of his company in Tunisia, back in 2006. “Given the geographical and cultural proximity, we looked to the northern shore of the Mediterranean, moving on tiptoe. From the beginning, however, we appreciated the attachment of the local staff to the company, especially, but not only, in the years of the so-called Jasmine Revolution”.
“Personally, I have been working in Poland since 1991, when I was still a young engineer”, said President Piero Cannas. “In these 28 years the country has performed a real industrial miracle, with a growth that exploded in 2004 with the adhesion to the EU: let’s just think that Poland was the only nation to grow even during the hardest years of the crisis. Poland obviously has a close relationship with Germany, even if the country is not suffering at all from the current German crisis: this means that Poland has been able to acquire its full industrial autonomy. Italy is considered a close country, all the more so after the papacy of John Paul II, who cemented the friendship between the two nations. In general, there is room to continue to grow, especially in automation, as all the indicators show”.
“What led our associates to invest in the Czech Republic in two waves, in the 1990s and 2000s, was the country’s industrial history and the role it has always played as a bridge between East and West. Those who have invested, in short, have done so with a precise strategy and looking to the OEMs”, said Matteo Mariani. “The real limit, at this time, is the lack of manpower and the almost total closure of incoming migration flows”.
Dealing with the availability of labour
The issue of training and the availability of labour and skills, not by chance, is increasingly central and can become a serious problem for the growth of some countries, including Serbia, which has started a phase of growth in the automation sector. “We are facing a process of pre-accession to the EU – Irena Brajovic explained – that could last for a long time and will have quite a strong impact on the issue of the availability of skilled labour, considered the possibility of emigrating, with the entry in the EU, for young Serbians. For this reason the government is engaging in support actions, especially in the ICT sector”.
Above all in Central Europe, in countries that are growing significantly, this is a key issue in the political agenda, as well as a social and cultural trend. “Even if it does not ensure results in the short term, an adequate planning in terms of training strategies is necessary: just last year in Prague we also talked about this with AIdAM”, added Matteo Mariani. “What has changed, even in the area in which we operate, is the approach to work, which is now characterized by much greater flexibility than even just 10 years ago”.
The southern shore of the Mediterranean, on the contrary, is facing quite a strong demographic growth: let’s just think, in fact, that in 2050 one inhabitant in four on Earth will be African. “In the case of Africa – said Vice President Codara – the issue of the ‘brain drain’ is worthwhile: people who have been trained in Europe or in the US and now return to the continent to give their contribution to a development that now seems to be launched and that will be based mainly on SMEs, typical also of the Italian context”.

A key role for Italy between Europe and the Mediterranean
Speaking of Italy, at the recent assembly of Confindustria, President Vincenzo Boccia, reiterating a concept dear to many, called for an Italy that is “not at the periphery of Europe, but central between Europe and the Mediterranean”. To make such a scenario true, however, it is urgent to work with the aim of promoting a geopolitical project that looks, precisely, to the Mediterranean.
“Tunisia can certainly be seen as a springboard for Italian companies to Africa, precisely because of the role that the country has in the continental context”, summarized Denise Salustri.
“What is certain is that Northern Europe sees Italy as the hinged country towards Africa. At the end of April, in Tunis, an agreement was signed for the laying of a cable that will connect Italy and Tunisia for the supply of electricity. I consider it as a sort of umbilical cord, a step forward for the metaphorical rapprochement of the two shores”, added Filippo Codara.
The revolution of automotive
The round table also dealt with the important changes underway in the automotive industry, which remains a reference sector almost everywhere when it comes to mechatronic automation. Electrification, sensorisation, connectivity and self-guided car projects are the latest trends that promise to profoundly change production systems.
Can all this turn into an opportunity for the development of the industrial fabric?
“In the Czech Republic, automotive is worth one fifth of exports and is the backbone of old and new industry”, said Mr Mariani. “Skoda, the leading Czech car manufacturer, recently presented its new strategy on electric cars with electric and hybrid models that will be sold at very competitive prices. The other important element is that a quarter of the cars coming out in the Czech Republic will be electric or hybrid by 2025. This means that the change is absolutely underway and shows a response to the ‘dieselgate’ that created quite a few problems to the Czech manufacturer”.
“In Poland there is a lot of talk about the future of automotive and we have been following this issue very closely for quite a long time”, says Piero Cannas. “In recent years it has become clear that things are changing and almost everyone agrees that the trend of electrification is a must for the future. The production system is adapting and those who do so first will undoubtedly be able to take advantage of the opportunity”.
Speaking of Tunisia, Denise Salustri provided a figure that shows the importance of the automotive industry for the African country: exports of products related to the mechanical and electronic industry for automotive have exceeded those for the food industry. It is no coincidence that a major French manufacturer of components for the sector, Valeo, for example, has recently invested heavily in Tunisia”.

The do-it-yourself that’s not worthwhile
Finally, the speakers provided some valuable suggestions on how to approach foreign markets in the right way. “Each country has its own peculiarities: there are rules, customs, relationships to take into account”, said Piero Cannas. “It is that so-called intangible part that makes the difference. Institutions like the Chambers of Commerce know how to manage these aspects at best and must therefore be a first point of reference”.
“People often approach countries with inadequate methods and poor knowledge”, added Matteo Mariani. “Every company should be able to understand whether it is appropriate to face a market or a country: a lot depends on the characteristics, structure and objectives that are set. Our organizations can help a lot in this sense”.
Speaking of Tunisia, “given the geographical contiguity with Italy, the possible investors often rely on people they may know directly, but I think that such an approach is not correct”, explained Denise Salustri. “I add, then, that it is important to be willing to wait before getting the first results”.
“Today, the institution I represent covers countries that cannot be defined as easy, for many reasons”, said Filippo Codara. “The do-it-yourself, even more so, is absolutely not recommended. We, as Confindustria Assafrica and Mediterraneo, try to support companies in these geographical areas by identifying the potential, sectors, possible investments and especially partners. Perhaps by quoting an African proverb I can be even clearer: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together’”.