A necessary condition for economic growth
The long economic crisis we are going through keeps sending signals about what formulas do not work any longer regarding our particular quest for growth, such as prolonging government expenses on construction or attracting foreign direct investment based on lower wages. The consensus of opinion is that our new economic model should be grounded on R&D and innovation. Easier said than done, and thus it is that our community has kept struggling trying to attract international companies on these areas.
The truth of the matter is that drawing the Googles and the Amazons of the world to Aragon (that, and not less, should be the goal) requires creating the appropriate environment for companies to come. A key issue, which can make or break a deal, is that the executives working for those firms should also have the appropriate incentives to live in our region. And, let us admit it, here it is where our challenges start. Zaragoza is not Madrid or Barcelona; it has not the advantages of large metropolis, and this is a major drawback that cannot be ignored.
It is true that some significant improvements in this regard have been made: today we can drive almost everywhere from Zaragoza along highways, reach Barcelona or Madrid by AVE in less than ninety minutes, and fly directly to some of the large European cities, even if it is à la RyanAir. Furthermore, and partially due to the International Exposition of 2008, these days Zaragoza looks very nice, is quite clean, and happens to be extremely safe.
But there are still some gaps to fill. When corporations make decisions about where to place regional headquarters or R&D centers, one of the key questions to ask is whether the city under scrutiny has an international school or not. Only if the answer is in the affirmative may the city remain on the short list. As of today, a major issue is that Zaragoza does not have a true English international school. The closest we have is what we call bilingual schools, but these are assessed as inadequate by companies, because children are required to know or learn Spanish, a requisite which, admittedly, is not always perceived as desirable or even feasible by their parents. What we need is the English version (maybe public, maybe private) of the Aragonese Molière School.
Such a new school will also create local demand, since an increasing number of parents are aware of how important it is for their children to speak fluent English, an oddity still today in Aragon. This local demand will make the investment even more attractive, but we should keep in mind that the focus has to be on the current opportunity cost, i.e., on recovering the huge amount of money that is left today on the table for not having such a school in the region.
Do we really want to attract top-notch companies to Aragon? If so, then let us pave the path for them to come. The new consejeros of Education, Technology, and Economy should pick up the baton and move this initiative forward. Difficult to achieve? Maybe, but if an Irishman can become an official at the DGA and this newspaper can publish this article in English, it means that something is changing in Aragon, thus there is some hope that an international school becomes a reality and our autonomous region be moved to the next level.