Bilbao receives 4.5 million from Europe for the creation of an innovation centre in Zorrotzaurre

"We’re working on Bilbao’s future. The city is focused on the creation of a new economic and social fabric based on creativity, innovation and new technologies”. The words of the mayor, Juan Mari Aburto, in September 2015, already foretold the work begun for laying the foundations of what will be the second transformation of Bilbao linked to innovation and industry 4.0 entrepreneurship.

The work of the City Council has not gone unnoticed at the European Commission, which has supported the proposal, presented amongst 378 initiatives from other countries, for strengthening the competitiveness of local businesses in this world of innovation. Bilbao will thus receive 4,600,000 euros for this project, which will have its most visible part in Zorrotzaurre, where a yet-to-be-determined public building will be recovered for its conversion into a reference centre for intelligent specialisation. The Councillor responsible for Economic Development, Commerce and Employment, Xabier Ochandiano, officially received the news yesterday, although positive input had already reached him over these last few days. The news reached the mayor, Juan Mari Aburto, in Colombia, where he is on an institutional trip, but both have shared the satisfaction for this European recognition, which implies an endowment equivalent to 80% of the total investment expected, estimated at 5,800,000 euros. Industry 4.0 is a recently coined brand for defining industrial transformation with a technological base. That is, technology in industry for continuing innovation. Ochandiano yesterday spelled out, in four points, the keys to the project that has had an impact in the European Commission. “It involves training, both in the professional and university spheres, linked to Industry 4.0. Another of its foundations is networking between the main stakeholders or interest groups within the public and private sphere, enterprising individuals and students”. A third pillar of the project is related to the work of start-ups, entrepreneurs who are in the position to create a company, and “the most visual part of the project”, explains the councillor, is that “all of this will have to be centralised with the creation of an industrial building in Zorrotzaurre. Because an important part of it has to do with industrial recovery for an advanced industry, with support for enterprise”. The building in which this island of knowledge will materialise is yet to be defined, although there are various options, without it being a closed process. The project partners, including the Mondragón Corporation, University of Mondragón, MIK, Orkestra, Gaia, Idom and Eiken, will have to specify a number of aspects of this project, to be developed over the next three years. One of the matters to be addressed will be precisely the building. At present there are four being considered, although no decision has been made. Ochandiano refers to the Beta company building, the former Consoni building, and the Lankor and Tarabusis buildings. One of the most valued parts has been that, although led by Bilbao City Council, it boasts the participation of the private and university spheres, and large companies in the Basque Country. “This type of public-private initiative is very highly valued in the European sphere”, indicates Ochandiano.

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Xavier Ochandiano, "The European Commission has really taken public-private collaboration into account"

In fact, the Bilbao project, As Fabrik, is one of the 18 selected by Europe out of the 378 initiatives that have coincided, amongst them, those from Paris, Rotterdam, Turin and Milan. As Fabrik aspires to be “a useful project for businesses that demand people who are trained, qualified and technically prepared to undertake tasks and offer services of a high specialisation”, according to the definition by the Councillor for Economic Development. In the words of his superiors, “the future has to necessarily go through connectivity, the implementation of digitalised and robotised factories, which help to reduce cost, increase efficiency and improve and personalise products”. It aims, on the one hand, to identify “the challenges” that local businesses face and, on the other, propose “innovative solutions” to them. Bilbao City Council has announced on more than one occasion the intention to build an island of knowledge on Zorrotzaurre, which this project supports, but also “draw attention now to specific things in a direct and tangible manner in order to build this future”. Ochandiano adds that “we think of Zorrotzaurre as a 20 year project, but the truth is it is already active, and this is one of the keys. Because these foundations, from the part of the infrastructures such as the opening of the canal or the building of the bridges, are combined with these first steps, from a business perspective”. This centre for research, training and advanced technology enterprise has a very important talent recognition base. “It’s a very exiting project”. The City Council is of the opinion that it has been “a very pleasant surprise because it was something very difficult, and what’s more, it was achieved at the first official announcement”, concludes Ochandiano.

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                                                               The Beta building is one of those being considered. Photo: Juan Lazkano

Article by Olga Saez for the DEIA newspaper