Italy banks on a future with foreign investors

Italy's sluggish economy and burdensome bureaucracy have done little to attract foreign investors. But now the country's north-west is carving out a future built on international business ties.

Italy banks on a future with foreign investors
Turin city hall has been working to attract foreign investors. Turin photo: Shutterstock

“It all went really well. We’ve been here for a year and a half and we’re very happy,” Antony Guadagnuolo, the manager for Italy at Creditsafe, a business credit reporting company which recently expanded into Italy, told The Local.

His enthusiasm stands at odds with the picture often painted by foreigners trying to invest in Italy.

Crippling bureaucracy, an alarmingly slow justice system and poor English skills among Italians are just some common complaints, not to mention the current state of Italy’s finances.

It’s been three years since economist Mario Monti stepped in to save the Italian economy from collapse. Yet despite the reform efforts of “super Mario” and two subsequent prime ministers, 2014 was Italy’s third year of recession in six years.

Despite this, Guadagnuolo says he came to Italy “because it remains a very important country.”

He launched the firm’s Italy operations in 2013 after moving from his native France, picking Turin for the company’s headquarters.

“In Turin we found the right spirit for our work environment,” says Guadagnuolo.

As music blares from the office floor, he praises the “young and dynamic” workforce he was able to recruit in Italy’s north-west.

“I think the government is working to put people in the world of work. The province gave us a hand with hiring people,” he says. CreditSafe currently has 60 staff in Turin, with plans for numbers to reach 300 within four years.

While the company targeted the under-30s in its recruitment drive, across the country young Italians are facing rising unemployment. The youth jobless rate in Italy hit 43.3 percent in October, while overall unemployment rose to 13.2 percent.

The government in December passed a reforms package, known as the Jobs Act, which seeks to improve young people’s work prospects, by making it easier for companies to hire and fire employees.

Creating a more flexible labour market is a key way to attracting business from abroad, along with tax breaks, according to Turin councillor Stefano Lo Russo.

Charged with attracting foreign investors to the city, he says Italy needs to change its bad reputation overseas.

Turin lead the way this year with an international tour to promote the city, taking in Chicago, New York and London. City hall also looked east – to Moscow, Hong Kong and Shanghai – to new sources of investment.

While many see Italy’s main assets as food and fashion, Lo Rosso has been marketing Turin “as a university city and a research and development centre”.

This is despite the city’s academic institutions being missed off global rankings and Italy spending just 1.25 percent of its 2013 budget on research and development. This is far lower than the 2.02 percent average across the EU, a point often raised by cash-strapped professors.

But Lo Rosso is adamant that academia and research remain key elements of Turin’s investment strategy, along with urban development.

Turin photo by Shutterstock

The city may not have the financial clout of Milan or boast the status of capital, but through careful management it is becoming an appealing option for foreigners.

City hall is currently bringing over 300 local councils together to make local government more efficient. Attracting investments in the financial and manufacturing sectors are also on the agenda.

Despite emigration from Italy hitting a ten-year high in 2013, Lo Rosso is determined to reverse the trend and make Turin an appealing place for “talented people”. Immigration will “support the local economy and strengthen its international dimension,” he says.

Turin’s Piedmont region is already leading in this area, being named the best place in Italy for integrating immigrants in 2013.

Guadagnuolo is just one beneficiary, saying his move to Italy was made all the easier thanks to support from the regional authorities and the Piemonte Agency for Investments, Export and Tourism.

“We haven’t had particular difficulties,” he says, unable to pinpoint any barriers to investing in Italy.

Lo Rosso remains brimming with ideas of how Turin’s enthusiasm can be backed by Rome. Small and medium-sized businesses should receive “customized support” to work with multinationals, he says, while entrepreneurs should also be given more help.

“The government should help significantly by giving the image of a country fully committed to supporting new investments,” Lo Russo says. 

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Cable car survivor must be returned to family in Italy, Israel court rules

An Israeli court ruled Monday that a boy whose parents died in an Italian cable car crash be returned to family in Italy, after his grandfather was accused of illegally bringing him to Israel.

Aya Biran , a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran who was the sole survivor of a deadly cable car crash in Italy, arrives at Tel Aviv’s Justice Court on October 10, 2021
Aya Biran , a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran who was the sole survivor of a deadly cable car crash in Italy, arrives at Tel Aviv’s Justice Court on October 10, 2021. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

The battle for custody of Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of the May accident that killed 14 people, has captured headlines since his maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, brought him to Israel on a private jet last month.

The child lost his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents in the May 23 accident near the top of the Mottarone mountain in the northwestern Piedmont region, where the family was out on a Sunday excursion to the scenic spot served by the cable car.

The cable car’s pull cable snapped just before it reached destination. It then flew backwards, dislodging itself from a second, supporting cable, and crashed to the ground.

Investigations later revealed that emergency brakes that could have stopped the car on its supporting cable, avoiding the tragedy, had been deliberately deactivated to avoid delays following a technical malfunction.

Three individuals responsible for the cable car’s management were subsequently arrested.

The wreckage of a cable car that crashed on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont on May 23, 2021, killing 14.

The wreckage of a cable car that crashed on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont on May 23, 2021, killing 14. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Peleg has insisted that he drove Eitan from Italy to Switzerland before jetting him back to Israel – instead of returning him paternal aunt Aya Biran, who lives in northern Italy – because Eitan’s late parents wanted him to be raised in the Jewish state.

But Peleg has become the subject kidnapping probe by Italian prosecutors and Israeli police questioned him over those allegations last month.

A statement Monday from the Tel Aviv court where Aya Biran had filed a complaint said judges “did not accept the grandfather’s claim that the aunt has no custody rights”.

It recognised an Italian judgement that established Biran as a legitimate guardian and said Peleg had “unlawfully” removed the boy from his aunt’s care.

The court “ordered the return of the minor to his usual place of residence in Italy”.

The court also found that “a connection” between the surviving members of the Italy- and Israel-based relatives was in Eitan’s “best interests”.

Peleg was also ordered to pay Biran’s legal fees, amounting to 70,000 shekels ($22,000).


Shmuel Peleg, the grandfather of Eitan Biran, hugs a relative outside the Justice Court in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on October 8, 2021.

Shmuel Peleg, the grandfather of Eitan Biran, hugs a relative outside the Justice Court in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on October 8, 2021. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

The case has stirred emotions in Israel, and throngs of journalists had surrounded the Tel Aviv court for hearings last month, with some pro-Peleg protesters insisting it was wrong to send a Jewish child out of Israel.

Before judges ordered the sides to stop talking to the media, Peleg told Israel’s Channel 12 in September that his grandson was “in the place where he is supposed to be, in his home, in Israel.”

Eitan and his parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg, had been living in Italy, where Amit Biran was studying medicine, together with their other child, Tom.

Eitan suffered severe chest and abdominal injuries and spent a week in intensive care after the May accident that occurred when a cable snapped on the aerial tram bringing weekend visitors to the top of the Piedmont region’s Mottarone mountain.

The accident was one of Italy’s worst in over two decades.