The businessmen of the Harvard group that brings together Pedro Nueno claim the economic assets of the city against the strength of Madrid
The story of the economic decline of Barcelona, of the city of “no to everything”, of the expansion of the airport that does not take off, of the JJ.OO. of winter that melt in the sun and of the Hermitage that never arrives seems to have settled in society, compared to the rebirth of Madrid, which has emerged gracefully from the NATO summit, which makes “freedom” its flag and which attracts capital thanks to its tax advantages.
However, reality offers a more nuanced picture. Because although it is true, as IESE professor Pedro Nueno says, that “it is perceived that there is a good atmosphere and enthusiasm in Madrid and perhaps in Barcelona something less”, all is not lost. Madrid seems to have found its own narrative, but the Catalan capital, which has gone from complacency to depression in a short time, still has assets to sell.
These are some of the reflections of the group of executives and entrepreneurs grouped around Nueno, the so-called “Harvard group” that has met this year in Madrid -and they are in their twentieth edition- to analyze, from the capital, the situation economy of Barcelona.
SUMMIT IN THE CAPITAL
THIRTY BUSINESSMEN AND EXECUTIVES GATHERED IN MADRID LAST MONDAY AT IESE’S NEW HEADQUARTERS TO DISCUSS THE ECONOMIC FUTURE OF THE CITY OF BARCELONA. THE IDEA EMERGES OF CREATING A HUB BETWEEN THE TWO RIVAL METROPOLIS
A symbolic choice, to meet in Madrid, because this is where IESE opened its new headquarters in February, on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, a large building that marks a turning point not only in architecture but also in academia, to house to the growing number of students in the Madrid center that is now equal to that of Barcelona.
However, contrary to the negative dynamics and the perceptions of many Barcelonans, the Catalan capital still has a lot to say. “We are more resilient than we think. We are not so bad”, exclaims Gabriel Masfuroll Lacambra, president of the Mi clinic group. “What happens is that sometimes they see us better from the outside”, admits Ignacio García-Nieto Portabella, CEO of the Riva&García financial group. And here is a specific example of it. “There is talk of a spiral of decline, but the America’s Cup is proof that public-private collaboration works. The Primavera Sound music festival continues to be held, albeit with much effort, in Barcelona. We have to value what we have.”
More examples in this sense come from Michael Goldenberg, general director of Value Retail Management Spain. “The facts show that achievements are made despite politics, such as the fact that Intel has chosen Barcelona this year for its chip factory or that the Sant Joan de Déu hospital has launched one of the leading pediatric oncology in the world.
A SINGLE ‘HUB’?
BARCELONA MUST RECOVER ITS SELF-ESTEEM AND SEEK COMPLICITY WITH ITS RIVAL CITY. IF THE TWO METROPOLIS COULD BE SOLD AS A SINGLE AXIS OR ‘HUB’ TO THE OUTSIDE, PERHAPS THIS UNION COULD BENEFIT BOTH FROM THEIR COMPLEMENTARITY
For Fernando Serrate, independent director, member of the advisory councils of various entities, “there are rankings such as the one by the EAE that position Barcelona as the fourth city in the world to attract talent. Throughout these years we have suffered deindustrialization, the flight of business headquarters, the problems of configuration of the municipal public space, the anti-system movements. But in Barcelona there is a technological, biomedical environment, which we should turn into our new story, beyond the classic story of the Catalan bourgeoisie, because we have to compete in the global village”.
A certain optimism also emanates from Anna Birulés, former minister and president of Finaves, who cites the case of digital nomads: “We must not forget that there are foreigners who choose to come and live in Barcelona even if they work elsewhere.” “It is one thing that some companies may feel frustrated with the Administration, but Barcelona is a city prepared for the constant change of liquid society, with 22% of its population being foreigners”, notes Josep Lluís Sanfeliu, president and co-founder from Asaby’s Partners. “It is enough to take a walk around the atmosphere in Poblenou or 22@… Madrid can afford not to be so liquid because it has more officials”.
Susana Rodríguez, commercial director of Savills Aguirre Newman Spain, indicates a striking figure: 40% of the office space in Barcelona last year was allocated to digital companies. And in 2021, the Catalan capital concentrated 70% of the investment in the office market against the remaining 30%, which went to Madrid: normally it is the other way around. They don’t seem like data from a city plunged into decline.
GARMENDIA THINK THAT CATALUNYA IS TRAPPED IN NOSTALGIA, WHEN IT HAS A GREAT PRESENT
The former Minister of Science and president of the Cotet Foundation, Cristina Garmendia, invites us to base ourselves on what the data and figures say, beyond clichés. Although it is true that the Community of Madrid in the last period has gained five points in its weight in the GDP of Spain and has even surpassed that of Catalonia (19.3% compared to 19%), it is also true that the Catalan contribution it has remained constant over the years and has hardly changed substantially. “Catalonia has the capacity for resistance and unquestionable foundations,” says the former minister, who made an appeal for serenity in this regard.
“Economic capacity is measured in decades. Research centers, agile SMEs and the culture of innovation, which is what Catalonia has had all its life, are a series of qualities that Madrid did not need to have thanks to its capital effect or headquarters effect”. For Garmendia, Catalan society is trapped in “nostalgia”, when Catalonia should think more about what it already is, about the capabilities it has installed and focus on the future. What’s more: instead of competing with Madrid, it should try to ally itself with it.
An idea, the latter, seductive and provocative that raises some consensus. “It would be desirable for Barcelona and Madrid to be sold abroad together, from their complementarity, as if they were a single hub, a single axis, in a globalized world”, proposes the lawyer, Ramon Faus. “Madrid and Barcelona should be the same team, as has sometimes happened with the Teatro Real and the Liceu, although this may be impossible”, acknowledges García Nieto.
THE AMERICAN CUP, THE INTEL FACTORY OR THE PRIMAVERA SOUND: THE CITY ALREADY HAS VALUABLE ASSETS
That said, in addition to seeking complicity, Barcelona still has to put its house in order. As Josep María Romances, president of Closa Investments Bankers, says, “the decline is not that it is bad in itself, but it is necessary to hit bottom so that the city once again has a story that catalyzes this desire for change”. José María Montuenga, a partner at Ema Partners, suggests that “in the face of populism and demagoguery, businessmen have to bet on better corporate governance that makes talent grow.” In turn, Santi Tarín, executive president of Master Consulting, recalls the “chronic lack of family doctors that Barcelona suffers and the need to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to promote more equitable and supportive growth.
In the real estate sector, there are also a few barriers to overcome. Luis Hernández, president and CEO of Renta Corporación, regrets that “in the residential sector, many investors now prefer to avoid Barcelona. Other cities such as Madrid or Malaga arouse more interest. We have more and more interventionism, and that is the problem that makes capital flee”.
In turn, Gerard Duelo, president of the General Council of the Coapis of Spain, recalls that “in Madrid there is not so much land scarcity, nor is there such a widespread squatting movement, nor is it intended to regulate rents or apply social housing surcharges on the new work. All this means that there are more opportunities outside the city of Barcelona”.
THE SHADOW OF THE SUCCESS OF MÁLAGA FLOWS OVER THE CLASSIC DUALISM BETWEEN THE TWO METROPOLISES
Susana Rodríguez, commercial director of Savills Aguirre Newman Spain, offers significant data on this imbalance: only 8% of rental investment in 2021 went to Barcelona.
Is there a model to follow? During the meeting, beyond the usual dualism between Barcelona and Madrid, the name of Malaga came up several times, where the public powers lead the transformation of the city. Liling Qi, managing partner of Qimeng Abogados and managing director of Puente China-Spain, acknowledges that the Barcelona brand is difficult to spoil, but it is true that “a politician’s vision can transform the city if he makes courageous decisions”.
In the end, as Goldenberg defends, “we can complain about politicians, but we should do a bit like Italy, where business life works outside the uncertainty of administrations.” In this sense, Jordi Nadal, founder and director of Editorial Platform, cites a poem by Vicente Aleixandre: “To do is to live more”. Well do, Barcelona.
By La Vanguardia.