The Copparo Experiment

Written by  Pietro Benassi
Local authorities, a firm - Berco -, and a group of workers are cooperating to establish a new enterprise. A new model for the Ferrarese economy.
The celebrations for Berco's seventy-five years in business have once more drawn attention to Copparo, the world famous centre for the production of tracked vehicle undercarriage components.
At the end of the summer, another ceremony will once more make Copparo the cynosure of all eyes as September will witness the opening of a new factory built to produce the same components as Berco.

Its modest dimensions apart, the new company will be quite different to other industries in the Ferrara region in one particular respect: it will be the property of the fifteen operatives and technicians who will work for it. The new plant will serve as a proving ground for the assessment of the feasibility of setting up analogous enterprises, either with the backing of large firms or on a completely independent basis.

The new factory will be opened after years of meetings and talks between the local authorities and the Manufacturers' Association, which wanted Berco to make a "territorial commitment", and Berco itself, which has declared its willingness to consider proposals compatible with its own objectives and interests. Part of Berco's production is sub-contracted out, but this means dealing with companies beyond the rivers Po and Reno. Consequently, Berco's size, rapidly increasing production, and renewed success all combined to persuade its management team to seek a radical solution.
And the solution arrived in the form of a proposal from Berco's managing director, Gianni Bertoni. The plan involved the town council, Berco itself, and the 15 operatives who were to establish the new company. Bertoni's idea was to bet on the workers' youth and the continuity of the initiative, which could be managed by creating the most favourable conditions for the launch thereby freeing the project from the attendant risks normally bound up with the establishment of a new business.

The town council undertook to construct the factory building (with a twenty-five year mortgage to be repaid by the new company) and to provide the assistance required to overcome the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles involved in starting up an industrial enterprise (obtaining planning permission as well as the approval of health and environmental bodies).

Berco's commitment will cover the training of the worker-proprietors and the provision of machinery and equipment (lent out for use in the new plant) and the production agreement. The new factory will also have an area reserved for smaller production runs.
The success of the company will depend above all on its capacity to produce at a lower cost than Berco. This is not a utopian objective: small businesses possess the advantage of greater flexibility.
With equipment tailored specifically for production volumes it is possible to eliminate the diseconomies typical of larger structures, which are notoriously more rigid. With its "short" production runs and its ability to shift rapidly from one product to another, the new firm should serve as a complement to the larger factory (leaving it free to develop its automation programme).

The initiative inspired and supported by Berco is a very interesting one that will allow us to see to what extent a small industrial concern can hope to succeed in a traditionally agricultural area. The eyes of a great many observers will therefore be following this experiment. Some economists are already studying the project: there is much talk of "industrial incubators", "budding enterprises", "spin off", and "pilot projects"...

And in September some of these experts will also be taking part in the ceremony that we mentioned at the beginning, so as to get a closer look at the new "model" at Copparo. Their analyses are not hard to predict. But the most important factor of all will be the pride of these fifteen young people who are about to forge their own destiny. The success of their little factory will depend - over and beyond the favourable conditions that they will enjoy - on their will to go out and do business.

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