The beautiful city of Malaga on Spain's Costa del Sol counts on tourism as the backbone of the local economy. But the financial downturn and credit crisis that has rocked southern Europe has not spared this city. Unemployment has more than doubled in Malaga over the last five years to more than 30%, while the rate among youth aged 18 to 25 is a staggering 50%. Public programs have helped incubate more than 100 new businesses in the region, yet few of those businesses have thrived and become significant employers without ongoing public support -- an untenable situation in the face of government austerity measures.
Malaga won a Smarter Cities Challenge Grant in early 2012 to promote sustainable economic development and diversifying the city's tourist-dependent economy. A three-week study carried out by an IBM team this summer yielded recommendations on economic development, public-private cooperation, branding efforts and technology development. Malaga's economic development strategy was found to be fragmented and lacking clear measures. It's hoped that private-sector collaboration will tie educational and entrepreneurial initiatives with emerging industries in the area. Branding campaigns are seen as a way to promote Malaga as a business center as well as a hub for tourism. Public data sharing, meanwhile, is expected to highlight technology as part of Malaga's business-friendly culture.
Speaking at an IBM Smarter Cities event in November, Malaga's Mayor, Francisco de la Torre (inset photo), said he's confident the proposals will help the city drive technological development and improve the city's employment problem, but he also voiced concern about educational bureaucracy. "To address our structural problems we need high-quality education, but that's not in the mayor's hands because the provinces and the state government control the schools," he said. Several mayors in attendance, including Mayor William Bell of Durham and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, echoed de la Torre's concern that mayors can't always address all aspects of a city problem.