Euphoria reigned among the active forces of Malaga. It was not be for lowerly. It was March 30 and the mayor Francisco de la Torre (Popular Party) presented together with the president of the “la Caixa” Foundation, Isidro Fainé, what will be a milestone for the local image: the construction of a new CaixaForum back in the 2026. “The agreement culminates the old aspirations of the city”, the politician was sincerely moved. The building and what it brings with it, a whole cultural pole within the social work carried out by the Foundation, will join the Thyssen, the Picasso Museum, the Pompidou Center or the Soho Theater by Antonio Banderas, as references for a town “in the that you have to be there”, according to one of the different businessmen consulted. Precisely in the economic world, in these days before the elections, a model of success like the one from Malaga, embodied by its mayor, is opposed to the generalized demonization of the businessman that seems to spread the Ada Colau City Council.
That same March 30, at the other end of the national territory, the Barcelona City Council presented its Talent Map, with which it highlighted that 59% of this “talent” from Barcelona works in what the government team of Barcelona en Común qualifies as “strategic sectors” such as industry 4.0, health and biotechnology, the cultural and creative industry and the digital economy. As Jordi Martí, number two on the electoral list headed by Ada Colau for this Sunday’s elections, now underlines in an interview with CincoDías, his objective is to achieve “an economy that bets more on quality than quantity”. .
In neither of the two events on that March 30 was there any public discussion of why the “la Caixa” Foundation and its investment arm Criteria have continued to have their headquarters in Palma de Mallorca since autumn 2017. The effects of the 1-O referendum: since that year, the balance between companies that left the province of Barcelona and settled in it is 4,000 negative companies, with 2018 as the outstanding black year: 2,165 companies left compared to only 391 that arrived. Madrid and Malaga, on the other hand, present positive balances, according to data from Informa D&B.
A few days before a new appointment with the polls, Málaga and Barcelona -which despite everything continues to be the second largest economic capital- compete with two very different images, two antagonistic economic programs and two paths that are not entirely divergent because both present data Above average cheap. One, the capital of the Costa del Sol, has been erected for years as a priority focus of attraction for the business sector beyond the traditional real estate and tourist interest; The other, the Catalan capital, tries to vindicate its model, which it defines as social and sustainable, and with which it intends to get rid of the added stigma inflicted on it by the process and the continuous complaints from even Catalan businessmen for a municipal policy that they label as investment hostile.
Francisco de la Torre became mayor of Malaga in 2000 and this December he will be 81 years old. However, he talks above all about the future. “We are taking people away from Silicon Valley”, he proclaims to CincoDias when he talks about the “success story” that the option of teleworking has meant for his city. “There has been a need for housing that must be met and for trained people and employment,” he adds as he recounts several of these examples of cutting-edge initiatives that have chosen the Costa del Sol: Campus 42 of Telefónica, the technology hub, 5G and artificial intelligence from Vodafone; the new Citigroup hub outside London or the Google Cybersecurity Center, which will be located next to one of the great urban projects of recent years: Pier One.
Jordi Martí, for his part, is the strong man of Ada Colau, beyond his number two on the electoral ballot. Before, he was a member of the PSC for 20 years but in 2015 he switched to Barcelona en Comú. To the alleged bad image that the city projects, he responds exasperated by showing the economic figures: Barcelona’s GDP is already 7% better than before the pandemic (something that does not happen in the national group) and in 2022 it closed with the lowest number of unemployed since they arrived at the Consistory, in data from the City Council itself. “The data is there and supports our model based on an economy where the weight of technology, digital, innovation or the rehabilitation of buildings are fundamental”, he explains.
“The city is not just an oil well from which to make a profit, it is a way of life and you have to think about an economic system that responds to the needs of the citizens”, he abounds with his own list of successes on the pitch tech: the 22@ district, one of the most active business and office centers in Spain; Dfactory and the industrial policy of Zona Franca; the permanent headquarters of the Mobile World Congress… All of them “are from more solid and less speculative sectors”, they are companies “that interest us”, he points out, without forgetting that another of the great accusations, that of being anti-tourism, is also partial : “We are against tourism that does not contribute and is overcrowded.” In total, Barcelona now collects 150 million euros more than in 2015 from large companies, both due to improved activity and “special vigilance so that it is paid.”
The Andalusian city, for its part, can also boast figures. According to the Malaga College of Economists, the provincial GDP has grown 30% more than the Andalusian average and 50% more than the national average since the pandemic and, according to City Council figures, almost four out of every ten euros of foreign investment they land on their territory. Francisco de la Torre considers that “there are natural issues in the city that are valid for tourism and that are valid for attracting investment. But all this must be reinforced with a city that is attractive to the people of Malaga, who sometimes forget about it”.
The housing model
De la Torre refers to what is surely the biggest asterisk that comes with business prosperity: the real estate sector. Last February, Malaga became the second Spanish city (after Palma de Mallorca) where home sale and rental prices exceed those of the peak of the previous real estate bubble. Fotocasa estimates this difference at 5% more in the sale and 57% in the rental.
His answer goes through public-private collaboration. At the last Mediterranean Real Estate Show, the entire sector pointed to Malaga as an example of this path. The mayor still insists on perfecting the model: “In any territorial project, institutional collaboration between administrations and the private sector is essential. We must facilitate the management so that it can go more quickly and simplify the procedures, especially in the urban area, where we still have a lot to do. It is about having a rapid response capacity to the growing demand that there has been for sale and rental and then, it is also necessary to regulate to avoid negative effects”.
Barcelona, despite eight years of direct confrontation with the real estate sector, also breaks records in the cost of housing. It continues to be the town with the highest average rental price in Spain, at 18.6 euros per square meter in April 2023 and based on data from Idealista. In 2015, it was paid in April at 12.1 euros, which shows more than a 50% accumulated increase. In Madrid, in the same period, it has gone from 11.6 to 16.4 euros per square meter; and in Malaga, it has almost doubled, from 7.5 to 13.3.
“We have battled against some vulture funds that all they want is to make quick returns taking advantage of the pull of the city. These are not welcome. We are going to do everything possible to stop them”, answers Martí and recalls that every global city suffers from this supply tension.
The battle for public housing
The number two of Barcelona en Común, Jordi Martí, emphasizes that, when Ada Colau was appointed mayor, the city had some 7,500 social homes, the vast majority built in the 1980s. By the end of next year, Barcelona expects reach 15,000. The number does not reach 2% of the total 600,000 in the municipality, he admits, and it is far from that 60% that Vienna adds, “but it is about our bet.” “That is why tax justice is important. We have Budgets of 3,500 million compared to 2,500 in 2015. If we are the first company in the city, we will change the model”.
Malaga also boasts housing promoted by the City Council: up to 7,500 units in 20 years for just 50 from the Board in the same period.
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