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THE “CHANGE OF SKIN” THAT BROUGHT VENETIAN TANNING BACK TO THE EXPORT MARKETS
It is a district known for excellence that, over the years, has been able to put together the factors for success that characterise the best tradition of small and medium Italian enterprises. Looked at with one eye on the past, this is the story of the Arzignano-Montecchio-Valle del Chiampo tannery district, a production system that now encompasses 482 companies and 8,350 employees.
The crisis has also affected this industrial “paradise” in the north-east, which, faced with the loss of significant market shares, has managed to find a way to avoid losing its world renowned heritage of excellence. All this was primarily made possible by reinstating its international leadership in the sector. "The Vicenza tannery”, explains Giuseppe Valter Peretti, president of the tanning section of Confindustria Vicenza (Confederation of Italian Industry), “has been strongly orientated towards foreign markets for years, as confirmed by the fact that we currently make up 75% of the total product exported throughout the entire world. We are one of the most internationalised sectors in Italian manufacturing. It is interesting to note that in terms of qualitatively significant products, those with the greatest added value and fashion, we are presently on a strongly competitive market, like that of China, which has been the primary destination for our companies for the past decade or so. As for Europe, the markets of our continent have progressively lost importance for us, with the exception of high end fashion and car interiors."
The global markets for the Arzignano tannery have always been the main outlets for leather products ranging from those for the automotive sector, to footwear and furnishings. Economic stagnation had brought manufacturers to a crossroads in terms of the goods they offer: push for the “cannibalisation” of falling prices or invest in quality. The made in Italy tradition has come out the winner: the consortium decided to reinvent itself with the creation of a “green” production chain, focussing on research that has developed innovative salt batteries as well as commercial restructuring with private equity financing schemes and environmental redevelopment. It is a veritable revolution that has allowed manufacturers to uphold their historical leadership in international markets. While the auto, leather and fashion industries responded best to the substantial investments made in the field, in terms of exports the first months of 2012 marked a period of unprecedented acceleration in direct sales to Switzerland (+39%), USA (+23%), France (+15%), Holland (+11%), United Kingdom (+7%) and Portugal (+2%). In the same period, the turnover achieved by the manufacturers in the district fell by 1.9%, in line with the national result (-1.8%). Evidence showing that the innovation strategy followed has delivered the expected results can be found in the aggregate data for 2011, which show a growth of 11.3% in exports with a total turnover of 1.8 billion euro.
A lot has changed since the crash of 2009, the year in which many companies in the district were forced to leave the market. Redirecting production has served to consolidate trade relations abroad, with 113 countries contributing to the total turnover figures. Of the 2.5 billion in profits for 2011 (+6.8% compared to 2010), 1.8 billion came from foreign sales. “Now more than ever,” Peretti concludes “we must continue to be innovative. We still have an important role to play wherever we are in a position to make use of our skills.”