In spite of continual assertions by Spanish authorities over recent months that a process of business flight from Catalan territory has been underway "due to the independence process", the truth on the ground is very different. Companies continue to commit themselves to Catalonia as one of the key European centres to establish head offices, production plants, customer service hubs, innovation centres and a long etcetera. In fact, since the beginning of last year, a surprising list of major companies and recognized multinationals have decided to set up in Barcelona and its surroundings, despite the supposed political and social instability.
Starting with Facebook, which last week made public that it was establishing a centre to fight fake news based in the Catalan capital, and ending with King, the business behind well-known video games like Candy Crush and Farm Heroes, many companies have taken similar decisions. Even Spanish companies, like Limpiezas Las Nieves (link in Catalan). El Nacional has made a list of 10 such key firms, and has talked with sector experts to interpret this reality.
A clear commitment to Catalonia
Catalonia has a strong entrepreneurial fabric, and that fact is widely recognised by businesses. Marie Laure Fenet, director of Barcelona real estate agency Savills Aguirre Newman, which has exclusive rights for leasing the Torre Glòries, owned by Merlín Properties and where Facebook is to install its fake news center, tells us: "Companies see Barcelona as a very attractive city, especially for hunting talent, and more and more are trying to set up here all the time".
And not only this, but she adds that "if companies have to choose between Barcelona and Madrid," the Catalan capital is always ahead, mainly due to its lifestyle" - its quality of life, climate and geographical position, among other things. "Barcelona has all the advantages of a capital without being one", explains Fenet.
Companies "have stopped being afraid"
Marie Laure Fenet affirms that the only times when there was any business concern were the months of October and November last year, just after the referendum of 1st October, the police violence and the first political prisoners. "But as soon as it was understood that Catalonia did not want to leave Europe, and that on the contrary, Catalonia was asking for European support, companies stopped being afraid". In fact, according to Fenet, "these companies see the conflict as something local and national".
The growing trend over this last year among companies to search for offices in Catalonia will not stop, according to Fenet. "During the first quarter of 2018 alone, 92,000 square metres of office space has been leased in greater Barcelona", explains the director. "In the centre of the city - that is, excluding the 22@ zone - there is only 1.4% availability remaining".
Moreover, out of the total of future projected office space, in the process of being completed, "60% is already pre-leased". For the moment, the Torre Glòries is where there is major availability, "but besides CCC, the company that will run Facebook's service for the fake news center, we already have several well-advanced negotiations in this building with other companies, all tech based".
So, cutting to the chase, a list of the most important companies that have signed on the dotted line goes as follows:
Just last week, the company led by Mark Zuckerberg dropped a huge announcement on Catalonia: it has chosen Barcelona's Torre Glòries - formerly known as the Torre Agbar - as the location for a centre to fight against fake news. As Fenet explains, it should be noted that the lease holder in the emblematic Barcelona building is Competence Call Center (CCC), which will give exclusive service to Facebook in this centre in the 22@ technology district.
Sources close to the operation inform that the first visit to the Torre Glòries was made on 4th January this year, and that Catalonia's independence process was never part of the negotiations.
2. Enerkem and Suez
These are two key companies in the waste treatment sector. Canadian firm Enerkem, and Suez, of French origin, have already begun the formalities to install a waste transformation plant in El Morell (Tarragona) which will be a pioneer plant at Spanish level. It will entail an initial investment of 250 million euros and will create a total of 900 jobs, including those in the construction process and the activity itself. This is also news that has broken in the last week, and already only the final permissions from the Catalan government are required in order to move forward.
The e-commerce giant once again chose Barcelona to install a centre to serve SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) from Spain, France and Italy, through Amazon Marketplace. The chosen location was also in the 22@ district, and it opened its doors on 23rd April this year, coinciding with Sant Jordi.
But this is not the first time that Amazon has selected Catalonia for a major investment: in October 2017, Amazon already opened an important logistics centre at El Prat de Llobregat (link in Catalan), at which, incidentally, guided tours are available.
The British firm, owners of well-known video games like Candy Crash and Farm Heroes, already had its headquarters in the Catalan capital, but in January 2018 it announced a change of address: in the same city, but to a bigger building, with 9,000 square metres of space - and also in the 22@ area. The reason: converting this centre into the company's hub for Southern Europe. A clear commitment to the city. According to Fenet, this company "has undergone major growth since it set up in 22@".
This major Argentinian business is a leader in microsatelite technology for high-resolution images. Satellogic has also chosen Barcelona and the 22@ as a location for its European headquarters. In fact, it is due to open this week, on 17th May.
Barcelona is also a reference point for coworking spaces, a very attractive advantage for any start-up. Although far behind London, the world's biggest coworking city, Barcelona is already ahead of Madrid in these types of spaces. WeWork, one of the main companies specializing in offering this type of space, confirmed last September that it is coming to 22@, specifically to the Luxa Gold building, virtually next door to Amazon.
Asian giant IGG, a world-scale developer of video games, also opted for the Catalan capital to establish the first hub for its European business, from which it serves Spain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany. The Chinese firm came to Barcelona at the beginning of 2018 with the intention of attracting talent, and expects to have a team of 60 people at the end of 2018, after starting with a staff of 23.
The business park of World Trade Center Almeda Park, in Cornellà de Llobregat, has this year become the base for PepsiCo, distributor of brands like Lay's, Cheetos, Pepsi and Gatorade. Until recently, the company had its headquarters in Barcelona's Carrer de Tarragona, but decided to make this move in the same way as King did.
Hawkers, an Alicante company famous for sales of sunglasses via internet, has followed in the footsteps of Amazon, and also taken the decision to make its home in the 22@ district to give the company room to grow.
The North American games platform Scopely announced, in October 2017 (link in Catalan), that it planned to invest between 2 and 3 million euros in a new headquarters in Barcelona, the company's first location outside the United States, with the intention of converting this into the company's European hub.