Old Failings and New Potential

Written by  Andrea Gandini
Fifty years of history and change in Ferrara.
The economic development of the Italian provinces and employment levels have depended over the last 40 years on the dynamics of industrial added value. While industry, especial the small-scale, innovational sector, has been the driving force behind growth, in future the prerequisite for growth will be "know-how" (while environmental decay will become the biggest threat to society).

For a province to have a competitive edge will depend on the possession of research facilities (private, public, academic) together with the presence of multinationals and innovative industries that operate with high quality processes and products and thus create synergies between production factors, research, and the spread of know how. But it was industrialization that made Italy rich and the provinces that reaped most advantage were those that already possessed an industrial network or an agricultural system based on privately run smallholdings.

The history of the Emilia-Romagna area's economic success springs from the transfer of technologies from other areas, but the region's wealth of smallholdings also played a major part; a notable contribution was also made by the large numbers of metal workers (made redundant when war production was wound up after the second World War) who managed to turn themselves into skilled craftsmen and even authentic entrepreneurs.

The museum of rural culture at San Marino di Bentivoglio with its 5 thousand tools invented by smallholders, reveals what an enormous thrust was generated by a social group intent on taking the drudgery out of farming and on increasing output and profitability. This intent was obviously not shared by wage-dependent farmhands as the fruits of innovation merely increased large landowners' profits.
This is why the farmhands (and their emergent leadership) opted for the class struggle and political manoeuvring. The modest degree of entrepreneurial spirit shown by the Ferrarese has its roots in these causes. But there are also other, deeply hidden roots, such as the historic-environmental context, whose import is even greater.

For four centuries Ferrara was the seat of a Duchy, governed from the top. This structure was supplanted by the temporal power of the Church. Fascism, whose birthplace is this area, did nothing to stimulate either competition or freedom. Fascism was followed by fifty years of local government dominated by socialists and communists, most of whose leading lights sprang from those agricultural classes for whom change had but little appeal. But, in my view, political factors are not the fundamental ones. Interpretative tools from other cultures can help us understand more here.

An abundance of water is the dominant element of the area: according to the laws of Oriental cosmogony, humidity and water are connected with winter and fear; factors conducive to repose, work in seclusion, the night, complaints, isolation and hostility towards change.

The effect of fog is also worth considering: it veils the sky and tends to muffle those artistic qualities that are light-dependent and, like art, the entrepreneurial spirit depends on light to generate new ideas and ways of organizing them. Under such conditions it is particularly difficult to attain success, because here it's easier for a seed to be swept away by the waters.

But now there is an extraordinary opportunity for making the most of the situation. This potential is based on the fullness of the city's golden past but also on the emptiness that followed, as it was this factor that preserved the area from all the destruction and havoc that tend to go hand in hand with economic growth. That's why when we are tempted to fill these precious "emptinesses" (the town park, etc) we must be sure to avoid jeopardizing " treasures" that appear as such in part only.

In the last 50 years Ferrara has undergone a complex transformation: while half its population worked in agriculture in the Fifties, the percentage was less than a third in Italy. Today the importance of local agriculture is still twice that of the national and regional averages, although its importance is relatively modest compared to fifty years ago.
On the other hand the importance of Ferrarese industry has reached national levels. Our region is now ready to face the new challenges of an open economy and free competition in a "knowledge society" based on quality production served by science and research.

The presence of the University, multinational industries, and the synergies generated by their interaction constitute the basis of future employment, but this cannot come to pass without a reorganization of public services and administration. If this does not happen, then the competitiveness of our industries and know how will decline, leaving a gap to be filled by other populations, poorer but more determined than we are, to sit around the table of development.