Business leaders and experts came together in a bid to show that Malaga is a city open to UK investment in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Despite a falling pound and growing unease following the news that Article 50 is set to be triggered next March, “optimism” and “opportunity” were the key words at a business forum organised by Malaga city council in collaboration with the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain last week.
‘Brexit:Challenges and Opportunities for Malaga’s Economy’ brought together around 100 business people with several industry experts who shared their expertise and observations on how the relationship between the UK and Malaga can continue to evolve once the UK is no longer a member of the European Union.
For his part, Malaga mayor Francisco de la Torre said that “if the UKwants to keep a foot in the EU, then what better place than Malaga”, stressing the “extraordinary” quality of life and climate that the city can offer, the low costs, as well as the cultural offering. He also spoke about the quality of sporting facilities for golf, sailing and skiing, as well as the number of international schools available.
He added that it is important that Malaga “sells itself as a city for business” as it is a hub of “talented people, many of whom speak English”. However, the biggest draw, he says, is the airport with 140 different national and international connections. With many direct flights to Britain every day, he concludes that the UK is “the closest country to us”.
Javier González Marcos, Senior Executive Partner at Gartner, explained the processes used by businesses when choosing where to move their businesses. He said:“85 per cent of businesses use more than one location to do business. So, for this reason, it’s vital to be well located.” Thus, the city’s links to other Andalusian cities and Madrid, as well as the proximity to north Africa, make Malaga an attractive destination for investors.
The Director of International Economic Development at Malaga city hall, Marc Sanderson, who led the forum, and De la Torre are hoping to spearhead the city hall’s drive to attract foreign investors. It recently took them to Silicon Valley, but the Brexit vote has emphasised the importance of Malaga making itself open for business with the UK and especially the City of London.
Lesley Batchelor, Director General from the UK-based Institute of Export (IOE) said that her body’s members had highlighted the continued importance of the EU as a trading partner in a recent survey. “It’s just a silly argument our parents had. We all want to be friends and work with you, I promise!” she joked.
She stressed that although new markets are important, it is equally important to “continue working with people that we understand, which brings us back to Spain”.
Though she concedes that access to the single market is unlikely, she rubbishes the idea of a trading alliance with Ukraine and Turkey, saying“there are no three markets which are less similar”.
Similarly, the Australian market is also of little interest to the British economy, she says, as the distance is an issue and the population is too small to be profitable.
However, Batchelor is optimistic that through mutually-beneficial arrangements, Spain can be a gateway to South America for the UK, despite the return of tariffs that companies are not used to paying.
“We will find a way around this,” she says confidently.“We always do. The British people are warriors.”
This was a sentiment echoed by Mario García, CEO of Sequel Business Solutions, who has spent the past 20 years in the City of London. “London will prosper, without doubt,” he says. “This is an opinion shared by many business people I have contact with.”
He says that the multicultural nature of the City means that it is “very simple” to do business though the principal obstacles will be the tariffs and issues over European migration.
For Malaga, he says, the city must use its draw as a tourist destination as a factor to attract investors, stating that the English already have a soft spot for the Costa del Sol so it makes sense for the “area to promote itself as an area for business, not just as a place to visit” from where it’s now possible to, for example, attend a meeting at 12pm in London and be back in Malaga in time for dinner.
In order to achieve this, “We have to make Malaga a place that is easy for businesses to establish themselves,” says García, who calls on institutions to put on courses to prepare workers to be immediately useful in a workforce. “With the help of the university and city hall, Malaga has an enormous opportunity to offer up its talents.”
“At the end of the day, job creation is at heart of the issue,” said María del Mar Martín Rojo, councillor for Economic Revitalisation, Business Promotion and Employment Creation. “Malaga needs to be a place where an entrepreneurial spirit is fostered.”
The British Chamber of Commerce was represented by Derek Langley, its regional vice president for Andalucía. He describes the aftermath of the referendum as a “fantastic marketing opportunity” for the area which can benefit from linking its know-how with that of theUnited Kingdom to produce “mutual benefits”.
The city council now intends to make contact and meet with several businesses in the City to discuss possible future partnerships and show that Malaga is willing to be on Britain’s side going forward at a time when the country is finding allies hard to come by.
Lesley Batchelor OBE. Director of the Institute of Export: “We will find a way around this.We always do. The British people are warriors”
Derek Langley. British Chamber of Commerce in Spain: “The key is to find a way to use Malaga’s know-how in a way that is mutually beneficial”
Mario García. CEO of Sequel Business Solutions: “We have to promote ourselves as a place to do business and not as just a place to visit”
Francisco de la Torre. Mayor of Malaga: “If the UK wants to keep a foot in the EU, then what better place in the world than Malaga!”