For much of its recent history Spanish economic growth has been quantitative, focusing on catching up with the rest of Europe and establishing the same level of infrastructure, services and consumer levels. As a result it was a largely inward-looking economy until recently. A process that gathered further pace as prosperity rose in the 1980s and a spate of new shopping malls, airports, highways, holiday resorts, theme parks and residential projects responded to the needs of a country that had reached the consumer levels of an advanced economy by the 1990s.
The credit boom of the 2000s added further fuel to it but the financial crisis of 2008 left Spain reeling and in need of a new direction for the future. Just as many of its neighbours had experienced before, the shift from post-war recovery aided by the Marshall Plan to a more qualitative recipe for economic growth required a more international, export-oriented focus.
Smaller countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden had been doing this for decades, but by 2010 a noticeable push towards the outer world was visible in Spanish corporate circles. Naturally there have always been Spanish companies exporting, and in a way it ‘exports’ its tourist and residential resources too, but since the financial crisis there has been a marked focus on expanding this and offering Spanish products and services to the world.
New sources of growth for Spain
To be successful on the international scene requires flexibility, creativity and commercial ability along with an excellent offering. It helps to spur quality and innovation back home and makes a country more competitive, with a greater focus on education and commercial and linguistic skills, and by 2016 the benefits were already showing.
In spite of being without a government – and the public projects approved by one – for most of 2016, the Spanish economy performed better than expected to become one of the fastest-growing in Europe, outshining Germany, the UK, US and Japan with its 3.3% expansion over 2015.
Naturally much of this is down to traditional sectors such as construction, tourism, retail and domestic consumption, but record exports and a growing trade surplus are helping to spur growth and produce the kind of results seen last year. As Spanish entrepreneurs travel the world and hone their skills, the level of professionalism will grow along with opportunities.
Already universities are working with overseas institutions and corporations to encourage a culture of commercial aptitude and creativity among young graduates, and the rapidly growing number of start-ups are the result. “The fundamentals of the Spanish economy are sound, the banks are recapitalised and lending again, unemployment is dropping and tourism is booming,” says Michael Liggan, CEO of the Marbella-based real estate agency Altavista Property. “A reduction in taxes would further boost the economy, but even with that we expect a continuation of strong growth for 2017, along with solid, sustainable growth in tourism and real estate in Marbella.”