Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my piece looking at how cutting-edge technology is rescuing traditional Italian craftmanship.
Northeast Italy’s industrial heartland stretches roughly from Milan to Venice, along the floodplains of the Po River all the way to the Adriatic. In the 1960s, farmers in the region began setting up small family-owned businesses, each specializing in just one small part of a finished product. Within a generation, many of these companies became world leaders in their respective fields, and small Italian cities thrived as manufacturing hubs. The town of Montebelluna, north of Venice, once produced about three-quarters of the world’s ski boots, with different companies specializing in buckles, plastic shells, and foam linings. About 70 percent of Europe’s chairs were designed and manufactured by the 1,200 small outfits centered around Manzano, near Italy’s eastern border with Slovenia—with each part of the production process handled by a different highly specialized company.
Like much of the rest of the country, however, the region has fallen on hard times. Italy’s craftsmen have been undermined by competition from China and other parts of Asia. Since the beginning of the global economic crisis, the northeast’s industrial sector has shed about 135,000 jobs—some 17 percent of its total workforce. “We needed to find an escape route,” says Ignazio Pomini, the president of HSL, a 27-year-old maker of automotive prototypes located in Trento, northwest of Venice. “To use the same technology, the same skills, the same space, the existing investments, but for a new business.”
Read the rest.