The case of Milano

The case of Milano. Revamping growth in an advanced country.

In 2009 the Financial Times labelled Milano “Europe’s Cinderella” because its urban setting unfavorably compared not just against Paris and New York, but also with smaller and less renowned places such as Lyon. Since then, things have changed. The Expo fair brought to the city 21 million visitors - one third of which from abroad. The perception of its allure changed so much that, in 2015, The New York Times used quite a different headline to introduce the former Cinderella: “Milan, a place to be. A revitalized city welcomes the world”. Now the glitter and the gold of Expo 2015 is gone, but the sense that Milano is living vibrant times is still there. In this paper, we document the return of Milano to the world spotlight and present the reasons behind Milano’s revival. In doing so, we underline the importance of Milano’s economic model. Milano indeed boasts a key strength in its entrepreneurial ecosystem. The city’s distinctive economic features are those of a knowledge economy with a strong international vocation, in which both a varied manufacturing and service production, as well as large medium and small firms coexist in the urban space. Long identified as Italy’s business and financial capital, and traditionally renown for fashion and design, through time Milano was able to nurture and invest in excellences in other domains, from mechanics to chemistry, from agrifood to the Life Sciences. Also, Milano’s distinctive economic structure keeps together a strong network of foreign multinational companies (4.2 thousand of 13 thousand in Italy overall), large firms (as many as 90 with a turnover of over 1 billion euros), medium firms (strongly internationalized), but also and especially small enterprises (many family-owned) and startups. Relevantly to this paper, Milano’s model as such provides the right premises to the development of sectors that build on and further enable cross-industry interactions, flows of knowledge and capital, innovation, growth and wellbeing beyond the single industry, sectors among which the Life Sciences is the prime example. Based on both qualitative evidence and the latest available data, in this paper we hence build a narrative on the Life Sciences and the role it plays in Milano’s economy, to draw lessons on why and how growth may be revamped and sustained in a big city of a country that went through a prolonged crisis and only gradually started its recovery. In doing so, we also briefly recall the importance of the adoption of better regulation.

The paper is structured as follows. Section 1 introduces Milano and its distinctive features as a global city. Also, it presents Milano’s key figures that testify to its revived strength on the international arena. Section 2 describes the essential facts about the productive and demand linkages that made the Life Science industry one of the driving forces of the growth revival in Milano. Section 3 indicates the main areas of further development. Section 4 concludes with an attempt to draw general lessons from Milano’s revival that may - in our opinion - be seen as a blueprint for other urban settings.

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