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THE TANNERY DISTRICT OF SANTA CROCE SULL’ARNO: HIGH QUALITY PRODUCTION FOR DESIGNER LEATHERWEAR
It is possible to do top-level business, be world leaders in terms of productivity and also operate in tandem with public entities and administrative bodies. The tannery district of Santa Croce sull’Arno, in the province of Pisa, manages to combine all these elements, but above all provides us with a good example of how cooperative governance can really work. Indeed, this province has assumed an operational role in what has become a well-run and extremely profitable business. The real challenge that the tannery sector of Santa Croce sull’Arno has been able to overcome has therefore been that of running an efficient combined public/private manufacturing enterprise. Moreover, the manufacturers have managed to register some important export figures. It is no accident that this industrial district in Tuscany is now regarded as an international example of successful productivity. This of course is all happening at a time when the domestic market is stagnating. However, with regard to business overseas, the tannery sector has reacted very successfully to the grave economic crisis of 2009.
The statistics for 2010 revealed a level of overall growth over the entire sector: the main performance indicators were all on the rise, from the tanning segment at the top of the table to the shoe-making industry at the bottom. The collective data showed a 25.7% rise in exports for the third quarter of last year, the result of positive growth in its main target markets. Apart from the long-industrialized countries such as France ( 41.6%), Spain ( 2.4%), the United States ( 59.2%) and Germany ( 20.6%), the main focus of the operators has been on the emerging markets of Hong Kong ( 23%), China ( 15.5%) and Romania ( 21.6%).
This is about leather, but it is also more than that. Although the traditional occupation of the district is still the business of tanning hides, the operators have found a way to enter some new, interesting niche markets by specializing in other fields. The range of processed goods now involves the production of high quality skins for leather goods, shoes, clothes and furniture, cured with chrome or plant extracts. Graziano Turini, President of the Tuscan district of tannery manufacturers, and also Councillor for Economic Development of the Province of Pisa, had this comment to make: “To a sense of pride and of belonging to their native land, the producers of Santa Croce sull’Arno have added a dynamic thrust towards the export market and internationalization. In our area, we produce the highest quality leather in the world, as well as leather goods and shoes which are the envy of all.”
The archetypal success of the internationally-orientated industrial area can be found in its SMEs which manage to maintain the high standards of production destined for the world’s most famous fashion labels. The ability of these small businesses to stay in the market can be credited to their “integration”, and is due to the involvement of third parties in the business, specialized in various production phases, and to the activities of the satellite industries of tanning and shoe-making. This can be described as the assembly line for a well organized, centrally coordinated system, involving 350 tanning business, including leather-workers, about 250 processing contractors, as well as a large number of footwear manufacturers. The total comes to about 1,400 businesses and over 10,000 workers, without counting the associated satellite industries. Both the public and private sectors are proud of their achievement. As Turini explained: “If you are wearing a pair of shoes, or you have a handbag or other leather item with a designer label, or even one of medium-high quality, the chances are you own a portion of our Tuscan production, which includes our people’s dedication to their native land, and to the work they do”.