Show’s Over, But Barcelona Wants Mobile Spotlight to Keep Shining

Photograph by David Ramos/Bloomberg

Barcelona, which just hosted the Mobile World Congress, wants to become a major technology hub.

For Barcelona, four days isn’t enough. Spain’s second biggest city, which just hosted the nearly weeklong Mobile World Congress, wants to be a center of technology year-round. And it’s easy to see why.

Faced with a worsening recession, a 26 percent unemployment rate and both local and central governments undertaking spending cuts, cities such as Barcelona are looking for the next bright spot.

If the Mobile World Congress is any indication, that bright spot could come from turning Barcelona into Europe’s next big tech hub. This year’s event drew more than 72,000 attendees, a record, and brought in more than 320 million euros ($416 million), a gain of 6 percent, according to GSMA, the organization that puts on the event. As many as 6,500 temporary jobs were created,  said Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias.

“The impact is very significant,” Trias said in an interview this week.

Determined to build on the attention the event brings, the city, stamped as a capital for mobile through the foundation Mobile World Capital Barcelona, is in talks to attract investments from technology companies, including Cisco Systems and Huawei Technologies, Trias said.

“There are many companies, and some very enthusiastic ones, interested in setting up offices, facilities or research labs in Barcelona,” he said. “We want to make it easier for companies to invest here.”

But he cautioned: “We still need to see if those intentions finally come into fruition.”

Unlike other major cities across Spain, Barcelona still has some bandwidth to invest in infrastructure, according to Trias, who boasts about a track record of paying suppliers on time. That stability could make companies more confident about coming to the Spanish Mediterranean city, he said.

Still, Barcelona faces the challenge of boosting its image as a financially solvent city, and one that wants to expand beyond its more traditional focus on automobiles, textiles, agri-food and pharmaceuticals.

NXP Semiconductors, Europe’s third-largest chipmaker, is already growing here. The Eindhoven, Netherlands-based company has built a team of eight people that will expand to 12 in the next few weeks, said Pedro Martinez, business development manager at NXP.

“We believe and share that idea and decided to create a center to support this initiative,” said Martinez, whose company is focusing on near field communication technology.

To encourage more mobile innovation in Barcelona and eventually in the rest of the world, the city has also set up a center in its famous Plaza Catalunya square to show off the latest technologies. And in June, the city plans to create a facility for technology startups willing to work on mobile apps, Trias said. Then in September, Barcelona wants to host a mobile music festival. It’s already looking into which bands could participate, including The Rolling Stones.

This year’s big mobile show may be over, but clearly, Barcelona doesn’t want tech’s spotlight on the city to turn off.

 –With assistance from Marie Mawad

 

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