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Economy at the front – La Stampa

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Economy at the front – La Stampa

Resistance passes through Mariupol. Also for Northwestern companies. For weeks, the general cargo Tzarevna has been blocked in the port of the symbolic city of Ukraine. You transport slabs destined for the Italian steel industry. She is a ship of Augusto Cosulich’s group and his family. Born in 1953, shipowner, a law degree, knight of labor. He does not break down and grits his teeth: on the other hand, he has been practicing running for a lifetime, is a marathon runner and is used to suffering over long distances. Thus, from Genoa, he recounts the moves with the air of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in “Where Eagles Dare”.

“We are negotiating with the Republic of Donetsk, it is not recognized, but they are in charge – explains the industrialist -. And there is constant contact with both the Farnesina and the government of Malta, because the hull flies the flag of the island. We have five crewmen of Bulgarian origin still on board. The hull was hit by shrapnel, but reported no serious damage. The wreck of a large bombed crane must be eliminated. Then, if we manage to set sail while dodging the mines even in front of Odessa, we reach the Black Sea aiming for Turkey. And it is done ». The “Fratelli Cosulich”, of Trieste origins, in the Ligurian capital has taken root – as well as for shipping – also for diversification in the steel industry. This is where their Ukrainian partner Metinvest is based, of which they have been exclusive agents in Italian ports since 2017. And, with the Swiss Trasteel, they own the Tecnosider Workshops in San Giorgio di Nogaro (Udine), they make steel laminates.

Opposite front. In Kaluga, an automotive cluster 180 kilometers from Moscow, there has been a Cellino-Group plant in Grugliasco (Turin) since 2015. The family-owned company has a turnover of around 300 million a year, cold-works steel and aluminum for industrial vehicles, earth-moving machinery and energy, with over 1,600 employees and 18 plants in Europe. Russia was not a relocation. It has served to strengthen the company that is headquartered in the Northwest. Seven years ago, Volvo Truck wanted them close. But now it has stopped production in protest against the Kremlin. Fabrizio Cellino, third generation, CEO: «In mid-March we were forced to stop operations – he explains -. We continue to pay employees. Fortunately, the ruble has appreciated. But we fear Putin’s “nationalization”, that is, that our company will be stolen. We will not be able to resist that much ».

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Is there an alternative plan? «We are studying it – replies the entrepreneur, who is also the national vice president of Confapi -, even if the Government is quite silent, despite having a stake in our company with Simest. Unfortunately, one point is clear: the more the conflict lasts, the more the chances of reopening are lowered. We are simulating an exit, that is to bring the plants to another country, such as Poland. But, beyond the costs, it would be risky, because you have to cross the border. So we are negotiating with Volvo. If we make critical mass, in dealing with Moscow, maybe we get something. The employees, however, are from Kaluga and surroundings ».

For companies, resisting means keeping all communication channels open. Giorgio Barone, born in 1944, with a long experience in Unido (the UN organization for industrial development), has always been involved in the certification of goods. Now, he does it for the Genoese QSA, for the products that from all over Europe are destined for the countries of the former Soviet Union. “There is an unofficial part of the market that must be listened to – he explains -. Russia needs technologies for industrial machine tools, designed above all in Italy and Germany and in which many SMEs from the former Olivetti and Fiat industries are involved. China is unable to take advantage of this because the layout of the plants is different. Problems? Products that are too sophisticated are considered by NATO to be risky for military use and are therefore blocked. And there is a financial mess, which has exploded now, with many transfers from Russia and Ukraine failing. On the other hand, on fashion, textiles and food, someone triangulates in Belarus. He goes to buy there as we did with cigarettes in Switzerland. The advantage of us Italians is that we are quick… ».

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The corporate structure of the Northwest is resilient. Giampaolo Vitali, national secretary of Gei, the Business Economists Group, coordinated a study by the CNR-IRCrES at the University of Turin: «It is based on a database from 2019 – the economist specifies – but it is very reliable. It concerns only Russia, but the aggregate indication is precise. The 1,037 companies in Piedmont, Liguria and Valle d’Aosta that export to Moscow represent only 8% of exporting companies, 10% of the total exported from Italy, 15% of turnover, 13% of the employees involved. They are companies with an average size greater than the Italian one and therefore are less affected by the block on exports, whose weight is limited to 0.8% against 1.3% in Italy ». As if to say: the previous crises, from 2008 onwards, have hardened the companies in the area, even if the variables in the field are many. The trade balance of 2021 of the three regions was played out for Ukraine with imports of 218.6 million and exports at 221.2 million and for Russia with imports of over 117 million and exports of almost 937 million.

In the course of 2022 the hands of the economy will change. «For the steel industry we are looking for raw materials elsewhere: in Brazil, India, China. They cost a little more, the quality is not the same, but it allows margins », adds Augusto Cosulich. His group closed the last year with a record result, turnover of 1.5 billion and Ebitda of 40 million: «I am pessimistic about this war, but we will also find other solutions for freight routes. We are here every day to develop plans B ».

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The shock wave of the conflict disrupts logistics and transport. “This is true”, observes from Parella, near Ivrea, Mirella Ferrero, born in 1960, president of Osai, a company that since 1991 offers solutions based on standard systems or special machines for assembling and testing hi-tech components for industry of semiconductors, automotive and electronics manufacturing. They have 200 employees, have a turnover of 35 million, 85% export. «We are worried about supplies – confides Ferrero – because there is a lot of uncertainty. Due to the war, transportation became impossible. Now, however, there is the financial question to worry, with inflation and rates up after the latest moves by the ECB “.

How are you going to resist? «We trained and continue to do so – Ferrero replies -: with the“ supply chain contract ”activated by Intesa Sanpaolo. We have about fifty smaller companies online than ours, which can access as suppliers to our rating class assigned to us as leader. There is a digital portal that allows you to be regular with payments, with advance invoices and simplified bureaucracy. The credit system is supporting us and it is the only way to get out of it ».

Could reshoring help the “resistance”, that is, bringing delocalized production and suppliers back to the Northwest? “Only in part”, intervenes Lorenzo Ciofalo, 51, CEO of Tiesse di Ivrea, 20 million in turnover, 70 employees who produce and build routers, network equipment and M2M / IoT devices. «The supply chains will shorten, Confindustria Piemonte has a good plan in this regard, but it was not convenient for us to bring a company branch from Asia back here. If anything, and this will be curious to monitor, foreign suppliers could come from us, which have a low country risk. But we will have to create optimal conditions as a local system ».

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