Milan has reawakened as Italy’s growth engine


MILANOMilan has reawakened, in the desert of the crisis, as the capital of Northern Italy and the engine of the entire country. In 2015, the number of Milan residents aged below 44 increased by 46,000 compared to the year before, Assolombarda Chairman Gianfelice Rocca said yesterday at the association’s general meeting.
Of these additional residents, 31,000 were aged between 25-34 at a time when young people who can’t find jobs are forced to leave Italy. The city attracts students. Their number rose by 2,000 in the past three years to 202,000, with 7% of the coming from abroad, against 4% in 2008.
This “human material” belongs, in a period marked by all sorts of migration flows, to a population in transit. The metropolitan area (Milan, Monza, Brianza and Lodi) has a rate of foreign students of 13%, against 12% of Lombardy, 8% in Italy and — compared with the biggest European technical and industrial regions – 11% in Baden-Württemberg, 8% in Bavaria, 15% in Catalonia and 6% in Rhône-Alpes.
Of course, the foreigners coming to Milan to study are a small fraction of the migrants who leave conflicts and poverty as well as peace and prosperity. But from an optimistically rational point of view, they are the salt of the earth for Italy. As it keeps attracting students from abroad, the international reputation of Milan and its education system grows.
“The Bocconi University has joined the world’s top 10 Business & Management list. The Milan Polytechnic is in the European 10 ten list of recruiters for all disciplines,” Rocca said.
Today, the gap between the winners of scholarships by the European Research Council (ERC) and the researchers from Catalonia and Baden-Württemberg has closed. Between 2014 and 2016, there were 24 ERC scholarships winners among the Milan and Lombardy college students, against 26 and 27 respectively in the Spanish and German regions.
By comparing it with Baden-Württemberg, the gap between the Horizon 2020 funds obtained by the universities in Milan and Lombardy narrowed from 85% to 52%.
People come to Milan to live, learn and work. This is no small thing, in a country more and more exhausted and impoverished, which is struggling to restart the engines of economic growth.
This virtuous circle is based on two factors: higher education and businesses, a combined system that is particularly focused on biological sciences, which attract 50,000 students (21% nationwide). Many students leave after the university. But many remain here and in the rest of Lombardy, which together are a very attractive region because of the high specialization that allows them to find their place.
By extending the profile of Milan to the entire region, based on Eurostat data, Assolombarda estimated that 29.5% of population between 30-34 has a university degree. This share stood at 25.9% in 2014, and 19.9% in 2007. It’s a sizeable increase. Nearly 10 percentage points of growth in a few years, which were also marked by the violence of the crisis, can change and are changing things, within universities, research and businesses.
The techno-industrial basis of Milan and Lombardy seems to be solid, and with a significant international standing, able to absorb the positive impact of innovation. According to the Assolombarda research center, the ratio between patents and exports is positive. The companies that use solutions for intellectual property protection are – all things being equal in terms of location, sector and size – more productive by an impressive 22%.
In structural terms, the profile is even more telling. According to the Assolombarda research center, which elaborated BCG data, 123 companies with an annual revenue of more than €1 billion are headquartered in the Lombardy region. This compared with 61 in Munich, 25 in Barcelona, 28 in Stuttgart, 11 in Lyon, 8 in Manchester, 44 in Amsterdam, 13 in Turin and 7 in Glasgow.
Milan is no longer a sort of vacuum cleaner that sucks up other cities in Italy’s wealthy North. Milan must learn to coordinate with the rest of the north. For example, aligning itself with the new specialization in Turin in 3D printing, or “additive manufacturing,” as well as in other cases. A new form of leadership is necessary, authoritative but not authoritarian. From Milan, for a new north and a new country.

Paolo Bricco, ItalyEurope24