SMEs in the Puglian space
It was encouraging to see the strength with which the President of Southern Italian Puglia Region - Nichi Vendola - affirmed the political will to continue efforts to make the region a leader in the aerospace sector. This happened during the Space4You conference organised by NEREUS and Puglia last week in Bari.
Encouraging from at least two points of view.
Firstly, because it is perhaps too rare for political decision-makers of his level to take it upon themselves to communicate on the usefulness of space. Of course, a lot of the SMEs active in the Puglia aerospace sector provide for the upstream industry and Earth exploration activities, and thus enjoy a much deserved attention and support by the regional decision-makers. But Mr Vendola also repeatedly mentioned the "value of space for improving quality of life, for monitoring the environment", referring, of course, to the development in the region of satellite applications.
Secondly, it was interesting to hear from Loredana Capone, Puglia's Regional Minister for Economic Development, that "space is not only a sector for the big ones" . In the case of Puglia, these are not just empty words; figures are there to prove it: SMEs involved in space account for a yearly turnover of 1 billion euros and employ about 6000 people - sometimes recruited directly from the university. Coffee break comments from some Italian participants ackowledged the impression that the Region has come a long way in the past years (though the optical scanning of train tickets was deemed a somewhat frivolously unnecessary evolution, by the nostalgics of the good old ticket stamping machine).
The much-debated topic of how to ensure SMEs make the most of public investments in space, along big industry, has been a hot one for both countries with an established space industry who aim to promote their SMEs, and for "new entrants". Arguably, the latter stand to gain most from the development of satellite services, provided they also look after demand. Puglia's model may provide some useful lessons for both.