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Italian links bolster Ticino's economy

Ticino's largest city, Lugano, has a thriving financial sector Keystone Archive

Switzerland's southern Italian-speaking canton, Ticino, is probably best known to outsiders as a tourism centre.

This content was published on December 21, 2001 - 18:01

But the canton is increasingly attracting outside business, and has benefited economically from its proximity to Italy.

Charles Barras from Ticino's economic promotion office told swissinfo that as the only fully Italian-speaking area outside Italy, Ticino has a decided advantage as far as attracting Italian businesses is concerned.

"Really we offer the same conditions as the rest of Switzerland," Barras said. "But being geographically close to the economically powerful region of Lombardy, with its nine million inhabitants, gives us an extra advantage."

The canton has the sixth lowest tax burden in Switzerland, but Barras says there's not much competition between the cantons when trying to attract investors.

"We don't feel a strong competition with the other Swiss cantons as we're almost the only one present on the Italian market," Barras said. "It happens that we're in competition with other regions such as Austria, Slovenia and France."

Ticino, nestled on the south side of the Alps, is renowned for its warm climate, beautiful mountain scenery and extensive lakes. Many outsiders automatically assume the region is dependent on tourism for its economic success, but that's far from the truth.

"Tourism is surely an important economic sector in the Ticino, but the most important is the financial and consulting sector, after that it's tourism and industry," Barras said.

Ticino's largest city, Lugano, has a thriving financial sector, with the numerous private banks catering mainly to the Italian asset management market.

"Zurich is Switzerland's first financial centre, but Lugano is getting bigger than Geneva and will be its second," insisted Barras.

With a population of just over 300,000, the canton's economic promotion office is successfully attracting new business.

"In the last two years we've attracted almost 60 new businesses to the region working in the fields of electronics, IT, plastics, pharmaceuticals, precious metals and food stuffs," explained Barras.

The economic promotion office opts for the direct approach with potential investors when trying to attract new businesses to the region.

Among the companies which have moved part of their operations to Ticino are Italy's Armani and the garment maker Consistex.

A spokesman at Consistex told swissinfo that the simplicity and speed with the local authorities deal with applications was one of the reasons the group located in Ticino.

Another factor drawing investors to the region is the University of Southern Switzerland; established as recently as 1996.

"The university has a strong attraction factor for businesses that want to invest here," Barras said. "Its communications and architecture faculties are also attracting students from abroad, especially Italy."

The canton's relaxed Latin character may give the appearance that the primary source of revenue is tourism. But in reality Switzerland's sunshine canton makes as much if not more of its money from finance and industry.

by Tom O'Brien

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