Carlo Piacenza has been the president of Biella’s Association of Industrialists since July 4, 2016. Therefore, he is a privileged observer of a textile district which is known worldwide for the quality of its fabrics. On the eve of Pitti Filati, La Spola asked him a few questions.
First of all, what is the condition of the Biella district?
The crisis affected the Biella industrial district too, causing it to lose a great number of businesses. However, it “held out” by increasing product quality, continuing to invest and relying on international markets. In 2015, exports value reached 1.7 billion, with a 6,6% increase as compared to the previous year, which is above national average. This proves that fighting entrepreneurial spirit runs in our DNA.
You are in the early stage of your mandate: what priorities have you identified that you want to pursue as president? And what degree of continuity have you retained with the policies of your predecessor, Bolli?
I made it clear from the outset that my team and I would have extended the policies of my predecessor, Marilena Bolli, in the name of continuity. “Biella is in transition” this is the assumption that has been influencing the Association’s strategies and responsibilities towards the local community in the past few years.
It is a process that we intend to develop further, trying to achieve the goals that represent concrete opportunities for the area: from the support to businesses willing to invest in innovation and internationalization to projects aimed at relaunching the cities’ historic center, from the improvement in infrastructural links to the creation of digital tools and the promotion of our cultural heritage and values. The “Biella in Transition” project has gathered great support, with a total of € 300 million invested by private subjects.
Another central theme of my mandate, which aligns with the past president’s vision, is the protection and promotion of the Made in Italy. Furthermore, the Association has a number of goals it is working toward accomplishing: help our businesses grow in terms of both volume and quality and take action to promote training programs, the “sustainable” Made in Italy and the whole textile chain. I believe that it is important to intensify the collaboration between schools and the business world, by matching the businesses’ needs with training programs carried out by schools. I also believe that it is crucial to rely on the textile chain as a key to the production system’s higher competitiveness. The textile chain is a key element in the system and I think that it is very important to promote integration within the chain itself, between the upstream and downstream sectors, in order to strengthen the identity of our manufacturing industry.
Let’s talk about Biella’s entrepreneurs and their approach to the market: what main changes, for the better or worse, have you noticed lately?
Biella’s textile industry is made up of mostly small and very small-sized companies. Today, more than yesterday, it is very important to “join forces” in order to meet the challenges of globalization and competition and face the difficult economic situation we are going through. This is the path that local (and Italian) entrepreneurs should follow, by realizing that we have to promote the “well-made, beautiful and sustainable”, in order to maintain our preeminent position in international markets.
On other hand, we have some knotty problems to resolve, which affect entrepreneurial activity on both the national level, with bureaucracy and the pressure of taxation causing our businesses to be less competitive than those of other countries, and international level, where the big question is how Trump’s protectionism will be implemented and what it will mean for the rest of the world. Among the good news is that the 2017 government budget balance includes a number of exemptions, incentives and reductions for businesses. Another positive sign is the strategy adopted by Minister Calenda with his national “Industry 4.0” plan.
What is your opinion about young entrepreneurs in Biella, in particular, in the textile industry? Does this sector still appeal to young people?
There are a lot of young entrepreneurs who are really passionate about their job. We see it every day within the Association’s Young Division, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year: the new generation is full of creativity, spirit of enterprise and resourcefulness. Despite the difficult times, they don’t ask for financial support or facilitations, they simply want to be able to work without being strangled by tax burdens and bureaucratic regulations that are a waste of time and money. In the Biella area, there is a renaissance of young entrepreneurs, as shown by the number of start-ups in the textile field: a total of 42.
Our last question: there is a tendency among institutions to amalgamate. Is there a chance Biella’s Association of industrialists will be heading in that direction?
As I said, I strongly believe in the power of “joining forces”. Even in the case of Confindustria’s local associations, uniting means increasing the weight of our representatives and the structures’ efficiency. However, we have to discuss the modes: I agree with the “regionalization” model which our region, Piemonte, is striving to achieve step by step, starting with the areas willing to embrace the change that is inevitable.