#49 Alicante Investment Agency: Empowering Innovation and Urban Sustainability

Episode 55 November 01, 2023 00:23:03
#49 Alicante Investment Agency: Empowering Innovation and Urban Sustainability
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#49 Alicante Investment Agency: Empowering Innovation and Urban Sustainability

Nov 01 2023 | 00:23:03


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

In the fifth episode of our Greencities S-Moving series, we discussed with María José, the Head of Operations at ALIA - Alicante Investment Agency in Spain. She told us about the agency's mission and its significant role in attracting tech companies and sustainable startups to the city.

Discover how Alicante's unique blend of quality of life and work opportunities is enticing companies worldwide, and how ALIA is working collaboratively with the public and private sectors to build a sustainable future.


Overview of the episode:

[00:01:26] Teaser: If Alicante were a type of food, what type of food would it be?

[00:01:48] Introduction of the guest, María José, Head of Operations at Alicante Investment Agency

[00:03:01] The mission and role of the Alicante Investment Agency

[00:06:31] Public-private collaboration and support

[00:10:50] Attracting companies based on quality of life

[00:17:31] Aligning with the European Green Deal for sustainability 

[00:19:17] Roll with the Punches: Our guest answers "this or that" questions quickly and with her first instincts

[00:21:29] Ending Question: To you, what is a Smart City?


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the City, the BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the Smart City arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate the change for a better urban life. Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE smart cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at BABLE SmartCities. EU. So today I'm here at Green Cities, the S moving event in the beautiful city of Malaga, Spain. [00:00:51] María José: So big. [00:00:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: Thank you to Fikma for having us and for giving us the opportunity to speak to so many incredible people. And we're here on a mission getting stories from Spain out there to a wider audience. So also, investment agencies play a very crucial role in cities in attracting the right people and businesses, stimulating economic growth, working together with other stakeholders in the city. So it's absolutely my pleasure to introduce you to María José. She's the head of operations at Alia Alicante Investment Agency. Welcome. [00:01:23] María José: Thank you so much for the invitation. [00:01:26] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yes, it's my pleasure. So we'll jump right into go ahead. I like to start with a little teaser, and today I've selected so if Alicante were a type of food, what type of food would it be? [00:01:41] María José: Oh, paella called paella. [00:01:48] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay, very good. She went right for it, no hesitation. Good. Wonderful. So I also like to give our listeners a little intel into who you are, what's your background, what led you here? [00:02:02] María José: Well, what led me here was the love for a city. Actually, I love my job. I'm an expat myself. So it's easy to sell the city of Alicante to people who are hesitating, where to relocate the company. So basically, having a job that you can tell your experience and how welcomed Alicante made me feel when I arrived there and how I can just preach about the fact and all the qualities that Alicante can offer. It's a very nice job. So I think that will be my background. [00:02:36] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Where are you from originally? [00:02:38] María José: Honduras. [00:02:39] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay, very nice. Okay, and how long have you been in Alicante now? Six years. Oh, lovely. Okay, good. I have to visit. I keep on saying that to all the guests because I haven't traveled that much in Spain yet. Only for work. [00:02:52] María José: You will understand why Alicante is a good destination not only to go to the beach, but also to work and have a nice social life. [00:03:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, you sold me on it. Good. So can you tell us a little bit more about how Alia works? What's the role and mission in attracting the investments? [00:03:16] María José: Excellent. So Alia, the Alicant Investment agency is recently new. We only have been operating for one year, and a half. Yeah, it's a local strategy from the City Hall. But there's an actual office that we do like customer service, let's say, where we can take all their requests physically in the City Hall. So the objective of Alia is to facilitate the arrival of companies, projects or even digital nomads. Like, we do not discriminate the size of a company. Even if you're just one person who's trying to explore where to relocate or business opportunity, we are there for you. And we are also there for multinational companies of thousands of employees. So how do we facilitate this? Basically, we help with the bureaucracy and all those procedures that sometimes can be overwhelming for a foreigner when you go to another country and all the paperwork. So we are there to facilitate that. We also have a team, experts that speak English, which is very helpful in cases. We also connect with the local tissue because some companies, they don't know if Alicante is doing something to improve the digital hub, let's say. So we draft a visitor's agenda so they can come to the city visit. We connect them to entities such as the Scientific Park, District of Dejital and other private also networks so they can see that there is business opportunity, that they will have partners, local partners. So basically, we put Alicante in a showcase for them so they can see what is there. But we also help with searching for locations and housing for the employees and all of these procedures to start a life. That's what we do. [00:05:18] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Okay, so I'm wanting to move my business to adequate. What's the first thing that you tell me to do? [00:05:27] María José: First of all, I would like to meet with you so you can tell me what are your expectations, what are your needs, and what is the type of help that you need? Because maybe we cannot directly help you with many things, but for sure we will connect you with the right people. Let's say we have a network of collaborators that these are private entities such as lawyers or accountants. So we will connect you with the right people because as public admin, we can help you with some things until certain point, but then maybe you will need some to hire some other services. But we are there to just provide you with all the contacts that you may need. So, yeah, basically, if you come to me and say, hey, I think I want to relocate to Alicante, my first thing it's what do you need? What type of help do you need? Who are you? Tell me. Tell me everything about you, because maybe you don't have a specific need, but maybe I can add you some value and tell you. Have you considered this? I think this will be a good option. So we have a propositive attitude towards the companies who wants to establish yeah. [00:06:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: I really love actually working with investment agencies. We've worked with some as we've expanded as a company as well. And it's always been really positive. They've helped us find good network connections and more because our podcast is really focused around the cities, right? Yes, of course. And because a lot of our listeners are coming from city governments. So I want to ask you a lot about how you're collaborating together with the city and how does that work in practicality? [00:07:03] María José: Okay, so for us it's very important the public private collaboration, the public initiative cannot survive without the help of the citizens and with the local tissue. So I think this is a teamwork where all of the city will be benefit from this. Because let's say if I get to a multinational company to establish themselves in Alicante, this will definitely help the economy, the local economy, and will also help to prepare the city for more companies that size to start coming to Alicante. So I think it's a work with a greater vision of the future. And because all these companies will bring people or hire local talent. Okay, so you start a circular economy. They will need to rent apartments, they will need to go to the supermarket, they will start contracting services there. So we have experienced a lot of collaboration and support from private entities and from the citizens in general regarding this. So it's important to be working altogether in this. [00:08:15] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. But I guess I want to ask a little bit more about how the collaboration goes directly with the city government because it's always a bit I know some investment agencies struggle a bit with this aspect. If it's like a big city that is very bureaucratic and they're trying to bring businesses in and the businesses want to maybe talk with the city or this kind of thing. [00:08:43] María José: Yes, we are working directly with proposals with the local government regarding incentives, financial incentives, and also to do priority projects. So what is this priority projects initiative? When you want to establish your business, you need a license to start operating. But sometimes this can take quite a long time to process. So if a company comes directly with us, they have a speed track to get all the permits done in time record. So this is how working directly with the government benefits us. We identify the needs. I was talking with a colleague this morning. Most of the companies who are coming are tech based in tech and innovative solutions. So we're trying to work in a package of incentives for these type of companies to these sectors. And the help that we are giving with these priority projects is brutal because the first thing that a company says, I'm afraid of the timing that it takes in Spain in general to get a local permit to start operating. Can you help me with this? Yes, because if you do it with us, we do all the paperwork and it's completely very fast. [00:10:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: I will give anything for someone to do all my paperwork. That's like my biggest hatred in life. [00:10:09] María José: I would say especially also because of the language barrier. I have been in several occasions that I have to go meet personally with the representative of the company to do a procedure that maybe it has to be the representative of the company that has to go I go with them. Because sometimes we face a situation that the public servants in the local government do not speak English. So this is how personalized our attention is with the yeah, yeah, I've experienced. [00:10:42] Tamlyn Shimizu: That in Spain too, a little. Yeah. [00:10:45] María José: The language barrier can be quite limiting. [00:10:50] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. Absolutely. I also want to ask, you mentioned the innovative and digital companies that you're placing a big focus on that which makes a lot of sense. I'm wondering if you've seen any trends with types of companies that have been coming or which types of companies you think are, I guess, have the most impact on the innovative sphere of Alicante. [00:11:14] María José: Yeah, it will be. All the companies that we have, let's say, helped. 98% of them are tech based, mostly in software developers. And something very curious happens because when you ask them, why Alicante? This is my typical question. And they say, because all of my employees wants to work in a place that offers quality of life. Since they have to be sitting all day long in the computer, at least they want to have sea views or live in a middle sized city that will provide them with a nice and friendly social environment. So I think that right now the tech companies are coming to Alicante. Not because there's a specific hub created at the moment we are aiming to create that, but it's the quality of life for the employees that they are focusing on because these companies are coming from Norway, from Switzerland, or from Sweden, from Germany. And basically they're coming to Alicante because of the pricing of the life, the apartments, the food, but also because of the weather. So these are the main like, I'm tired of winter. [00:12:27] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. [00:12:28] María José: So we're going to alicante. So, yeah, this will be my answer. [00:12:32] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, that's great. I'm wondering if you can, I don't know, speak to a certain event or initiative that Alia has organized to kind of promote investment in Alicante. [00:12:44] María José: Actually, very good question. We organized this event, it was on June, it was the Alicante Investment Summit where 45 companies were benefit because we invited investment funds from all over the world and they came to meet with these companies, local companies or companies that were established already in Alicante so they can access to more capital, so they can expand. So I think this was a very nice initiative to promote the growth of what it's already in the city. So this has been a very interesting initiative. We also, as the Liante Investment Agency, we go out to trade fairs to represent the city of yeah, yeah, very good example. [00:13:39] Tamlyn Shimizu: I'm also wondering a little bit about, I guess, the biggest challenges that you see emerging for cities, or for Alicante, to be specific. [00:13:50] María José: Yes. Industrial soil for us, we were discussing it yesterday in some panel here that we're lacking space. We have a lot of requests of companies, industrial companies, who would like to establish, but we don't have enough industrial soil. So there's a specialized team working in this in the city hall to expand and to look for a way to make space for more companies to come to the city. Yeah, this will be the main challenge that we see. [00:14:24] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. So also another case for inviting more, I guess less in big industry, but more maybe smaller, innovative, smaller, exactly. Companies. [00:14:34] María José: Correct. [00:14:35] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Yeah. Really interesting. We've talked a lot about all the amazing work that you're doing, but I always like to also ask what went wrong? I don't know. It all sounds amazing. Alicante sounds amazing. Of course it is. I'm sure it is. But I always like to ask what went wrong and what were the lessons learned? [00:14:59] María José: The lessons learned this one year and a half, at least, being alia, is that we started this project and we started with a portfolio of services and we started seeing that among the road a lot of different needs. Have come into our attention that we have been adding into a portfolio because we didn't know. When you start a project, you don't know what's going to happen. You start with this idea, but during all the road, you have to be modifying and adding more things. So I wouldn't say that something has gone wrong. I just have seen opportunities to improvement and to give a better service, let's say, especially because most of them are looking for incentives and economical help. And we are working on that to transmit to the politicians. What are their requests of these companies? What do they actually need? It's good that we are helping them with all the paperwork, with all the procedures, and introducing them to the ecosystem. But they also need help, economic help. So we are working and improving this. [00:16:14] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Are you also working with the nearby towns and villages or are you just. [00:16:21] María José: Focused on the city center in the municipality level? Yeah, only in the city. [00:16:25] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Yeah. Interesting. Now, I would like to give a little bit of time. I don't know if we touched on everything that you wanted to talk about, but I always like to give the open floor. So if you're really passionate about something that you want the listeners to know, now would be the time. [00:16:42] María José: Well, I will say that even if you come to Alicante, if you have visited Alicante before, there's so much more of what you see. I know that you have been probably partying or in the beach or enjoying a nice paella, and I'm pretty sure you haven't been able to look deeply because you were on vacation. But I just want to let you know that there is way more than what you see. There is a lot of work being done there's companies that are already established in these specific centers that the CDR is developing. So try to think about Alicante not only as a summer destination but also as a destination that you can work, establish your company and have quality of life which is very important to live your life. [00:17:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. I actually want to ask one more question. I know Open Floor is supposed to be the last of the interview, but I want to bring another question to the table because obviously with what we're talking a lot about is climate change. Right now, of course, in the smart city world, smart and climate neutral cities, we like to coincide these things. Are you trying to specifically attract companies that are focused on developing climate solutions and also what are the kind of goals of Alicante in that regard? [00:18:04] María José: Excellent question. Actually, yes. Whenever we have a request of a company that we identify that it's giving a solution for a problem and has in their best interest to be. [00:18:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: Sustainable. [00:18:21] María José: Sustainable. Be sustainable. We immediately give a high priority. But we also involve other entities to help this, let's say other governmental offices to be involved so they can see that Alicante is aligned to the same objectives and then they will receive a lot of support if they come to Alicante. So answering your question yes, the government, the local government and the national government of Spain is working, you know, this European green deal. So we are all aligned in trying to make Alicante green city, sustainable city. So yes, we try to get involved as much as possible. All the entities when a company that provides sustainability when they come to Alicante, we try to give as much a support as possible. [00:19:17] Tamlyn Shimizu: So yes. Yeah, sounds good. So with that we can move on to our fun segment. And the one I chose for you is my favorite segment. So it's your lucky day. No, but it's a segment called roll with the punches. Roll with the punches. Answer this or that questions quickly and with your first instincts. [00:19:45] María José: Okay. [00:19:45] Tamlyn Shimizu: So we just go through it very quickly. You just answer which one you like and then at the end you can kind of explain if you need. Okay. Okay. Ready? Yes. Pen and paper or digital notes? [00:19:59] María José: Pen and paper. [00:20:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Historic old town of Alicante or Tabarca Island? [00:20:05] María José: Tabarca island. [00:20:07] Tamlyn Shimizu: High tech hub or sustainable startup scene? [00:20:10] María José: Sustainable startup scene? [00:20:12] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Unicorn hunting or niche market hunting? [00:20:15] María José: Unicorn. [00:20:16] Tamlyn Shimizu: Coffee or tea? [00:20:18] María José: Coffee. [00:20:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: There we go. [00:20:20] María José: Yeah. In my soul I said it. [00:20:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: Coffee. Coffee. I heard that. I heard that. Good. Do you want to explain any of your answers? [00:20:28] María José: Sure. The first one, paper. Because I'm very old fashioned. I know. Maybe it's not so sustainable. But what about if my item, my device, it ran out of battery? [00:20:41] Tamlyn Shimizu: That's a fear. You have battery running out. [00:20:43] María José: That's the anxiety to take notes and to at least write my task, my daily task. I really prefer paper because you don't know if your device will be working and I just rather use paper. [00:20:59] Tamlyn Shimizu: Sounds good. You had some ones about Unicorn startup scene. Do you want to explain that? [00:21:06] María José: Yes, because I believe in supporting the small and startup companies, I think it's very important to give this support to these people that really needs them. So that's what I think. [00:21:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, sounds good. And coffee all the way. No tea at all? [00:21:23] María José: No, only coffee. First thing in the morning, it's coffee. If not, I'm not a human being. [00:21:29] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. There you go. Good to know. Good to know. Okay, so then we're in our final question and it's a question that we ask every single guest because it's really interesting to hear the perspectives and there's no right answer. It's to you. What is a smart city? [00:21:43] María José: A smart city is a city of the future and a city who utilize technology for a better world. [00:21:51] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very frankly and certainly put. I love it. So good. It sounds like you've talked about that before. My answer changes by the day. I talk about it a lot. [00:22:05] María José: We also get to hear lots of opinions of people. [00:22:08] Tamlyn Shimizu: Exactly. Yeah, we're on, I don't know, 50 episodes or something, if you include all of our little series or something. So I've heard a lot of different answers. Good. So with that, I just have to say thank you so much for coming on and it's really been a pleasure. [00:22:23] María José: Thank you for having me. Have a lovely day. [00:22:26] Tamlyn Shimizu: You too. And to all of our listeners, don't forget you can always create a free account on BABLE SmartCities EU. You can find out more about smart city projects, solutions, implementations and more. So thank you very much. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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