Markets & Companies

The Italian Chemical Industry

24.11.2017 -

Italy, given its relevant industrial manufacturing base, represents a large market for chemical products accounting for about €59 billion. With a turnover of about €52 billion in 2016 (€82 billion including pharmaceuticals) the country’s domestic chemical industry represents the third largest producer of chemicals in Europe. Almost 3,000 companies are active in the sector providing jobs for about 108,000 employees (172,000 including pharmaceuticals).

Industrial districts - agglomerates of small and medium-sized firms, specialized in a single-product business, concentrated in a specific geographic area - constitute a characteristic feature of the Italian economic system. Approximately 150 of such clusters - most of them showing strong connections with chemicals - represent productive systems that enable companies to face competition despite their limited dimension. Chemical companies located in industrial districts are known for their sophisticated products responding to any specific customer requirement. Investing in the chemical industry in Italy means taking the opportunity to find numerous customers with high propensity to risk testing together new products.

Thousands of SMEs

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a very important role in many European countries but their presence is particularly important in Italy. The chemical industry in Italy is characterized by the fairly balanced presence of Italian SMEs, which account for 38% of the total value of production, medium-large Italian companies, which represent 24% of the chemical production, and foreign-owned companies, which stand for 38% of the Italian chemical production value. SMEs are predominantly active in fine and specialty chemicals where economies of scale are not very relevant and the key of success often consists in offering tailor-made products to customers.

Geographic Distribution of Chemical Activity

The Italian chemical industry is concentrated in the North of the country, close to down-stream European markets and local customers. Northern Italy accounts for about 78% of chemical employment, according to the Italian chemical industry council, Federchimica. Lombardia, representing almost 68,000 chemical and pharmaceuticals employees, is among the top five chemical regions in Europe in terms of employees and also number of companies. The country’s major chemical sites offer interesting foreign investment opportunities thanks to their logistics feature, availability of highly qualified workforce and investment support schemes.

R&D Activity and Innovation Network

R&D represents a key activity for Italian chemical enterprises in order to be considered valuable partners by their customers. In Europe, Italy is second only to Germany for number of chemical companies (nearly 700) with R&D activity. These companies constantly innovate also to improve processes and environmental standards. Not only major companies but also smaller ones are strongly engaged in innovation. In Italy, a good number of graduates in chemistry and chemical engineering are available. Doing research means more and more maintaining strong relationships with universities and research institutes. In particular, there are opportunities to cooperate with the National Research Council (CNR), whose activity encompasses base research as well as technology transfer and the development of new applications. Moreover, about 30 scientific and technological parks with specific competencies in chemicals and bio-medicals are located in Italy.

Advanced Industrial Relations

High quality employees, competitive labor costs and industrial relations with strong innovative content and collaborative bargaining attitude with trade unions are strong assets of the Italian chemical industry. With the objective of pursuing the necessary efficiency of labor in the awareness of the importance of human resources, Italian chemical companies benefit of a wide flexibility with regard to working time, wages, and a job classification system with simplified rules for SMEs. Italian employees are generally appreciated for their creativity and flexibility, professional skills that foster innovation propensity, problem solving capability, and high responsiveness to changes. Moreover high-level technical and scientific skills are available in Italy. (mr)