22@ - High-Tech Commercial & Research hubs in Barcelona

By: Transfer Business Administration Services Spain based on Financial Times

The Poble Nou district, in the north-east of Barcelona, lost much of its lustre in recent decades, due to changing technologies, outsourcing, and the relocation of heavy industry away from city centres. Between 1970 and 1991, Poble Nou lost more than 25 per cent of its population. More than 1,300 businesses disappeared between 1963 and 1990.

Then, encouraged by Barcelona’s successful makeover for the 1992 Olympic Games, municipal and regional authorities decided that something had to be done to return life to the moribund quarter. The result was22@Barcelona, a 120-hectare public-private re-zoning project aimed at creating five high-tech commercial and research hubs – dedicated to media, renewable energy, medicine, information technology and design – interspersed with subsidised and private housing, green space and public schools, sports facilities and medical clinics.

After a difficult start critics now say the original plan, for a sort of a Silicon Valley of Barcelona, has been diluted, and that 22@Barcelona has instead become just another business park with an element of research and development. In fact, according to recent studies, about a third of the companies now established in the zone are involved in the research and development of new ideas and technologies.

Even as the credit crisis and economic decline bite, cranes, scaffolding and complex traffic detours attest to city officials’ claims that the once-derelict district has become one of Europe’s biggest building sites. According to Josep Miquel Piqué, chief executive of 22@Barcelona, the development is now 70% schemed out, and 35% completed. At the end of last year, Poble Nou was home to 1,441 companies employing 42,000 people. According to several studies, about half the district’s workers are university-educated.

The knowledge economy has talent as its raw material” says Mr Piqué, “which means that cities are central to the new economy." Those cities that understand this role, and which can attract the talent, will take the lead as global cities.”

The refitted factories and purpose-built office blocks sprouting up around the district have drawn trophy tenants. Indra, one of Spain's most important software & technology groups, was one of the zone’s first residents, along with GTD, another technology company serving the aeronautical industry. Work on a media centre is nearly finished. Alstom, the French engineering group, is another key tenant, having established its global research base for clean energy in 22@Barcelona. Schneider, also of France, moved its European headquarters to the district.

Mr Piqué admits that the rate of new tenancies and private sector investment in construction has slowed with the global crisis. However, investment by public sector departments, regulators, research centres and universities is helping to compensate. “There are a few projects on hold because of the credit crunch,” he says. “However, the number of building permits issued last year was higher than all previous years. We have not stopped – far from it.”

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