|dc.description.abstract||La comarca del Mármol, en Almería, posee el mayor yacimiento de España de esta roca ornamental. Gracias a los planes de desarrollo de las últimas décadas del pasado siglo, es de los pocos territorios interiores de Andalucía con una destacada actividad industrial y que ha conseguido fijar la población. El clima empresarial generado ha impulsado la investigación, apostando por la calidad y abriéndose al exterior, y ha introducido en el mercado nuevos productos no basados en el mármol, que son de gran ayuda para la sostenibilidad de la actividad económica. El distrito industrial que conforman estas empresas ha evolucionado, ajustándose a las circunstancias y mostrando una elevada resiliencia.
Economic globalisation and the resulting proximity between countries and regions, have not only failed to obliterate local areas, but have indeed highlighted their relevance. In parallel with the evolution of the globalising process, and in numerous cases, the territorial dimension has increased in value, as a necessary pillar for progress and for the benefit of the population, driven by development programmes, in which endogenous resources and sustainability are paramount. One of the bases of this process lies in the rescue by Becattini of the Marshallian industrial district, which explains the success of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is specialised production systems.
In the north of the Almería province, in the Filabres mountain range, exist the greatest marble quarries in the whole of the Spanish territory, both in terms of volume and of quality the set of towns and villages located in the area where this natural resource is extracted and processed is known as the Marble Region. The best known variety is Macael white marble, which has been quarried since the first centuries of our era and has been used to beautify a vast number of constructions, among them the Alhambra in Granada and the Monastery of El Escorial.
From an analysis of the history and evolution of the marble industry in the area, the following landmarks need to be highlighted. Until the end of the first third of the 19th century, marble was a communally owned asset, which led to the proliferation of a number of very small quarries. The transition to private ownership and therefore to local council management, was unable to stop the surge of smallholds, from which other problems derived, such as the use of poor technical means and the chaos caused by waste/rubble dumps, characteristics that have plagued this sector for almost a century and a half.
During the first decades of the second half of the 20th century, extraction was carried out in many quarries with very small fronts, by reticent entrepreneurs who were reluctant to invest, since their rights to open shaft mining had a time limit, established in the permit granted by the local council, which was the owner of the terrain and of the mining concessions. This is one of the reasons which explain why nearly all quarry workers/entrepreneurs were local, with hardly any presence of capital from outside. The marble processing panorama was very similar; small factories and workshops predominated with a reduced capacity for production and dated machinery, unable to supply demands for quality and quantity, and thus with scarce commercial potential.
As the decade of the 80s started, the marble industry, weighed down by its own internal problems, worsened due to decreasing demand and to the precarious economic situation in general, had sunk in a deep crisis. In those years, public administration in agreement with agents and local institutions, and counting on their total involvement, set in motion several local development plans that proved to be crucial in modernising the marble industry in Macael. In 1983, an Action Plan was initiated and in 1996 a Strategic Plan. The industrial restructure undertaken changed the entrepreneurial scene completely. In the extraction area, the Plan Director de la Sierra de Macael (Macael Mountain Range Director Plan) introduced “business units” —areas of similar characteristics consisting of several quarries— which by unifying various tasks, allowed for a more rational mechanisation, improved continuity in marble supply, better organised enterprises and increased safety. A vastly improved use of resources, together with lower extraction costs, increased the lifespan of the marble deposits (Carretero, 1995: 345-346). With regard to product transformation, the restructure laid down the foundations for resizing the companies and updating the technology; many microenterprises that produced building materials and were hardly able to compete with any success were re-orientated towards craftsmanship. Besides tackling the problems of the companies and their infrastructure, the plans also considered people, promoting training and so an optimistic atmosphere was created, with expectations that spurred the initiatives of many entrepreneurs and encouraged common initiatives.
Thanks to these strategies, local development, which until then had been a crowd of quarries, was transformed into an industrial district with great drive and resilience. When the 20th century gave way to the 21st, other definitely competitive advantages were added to the comparative advantage of possessing a unique natural resource, (research and innovation, qualified and specialised staff, very high quality finished products, marketing channels). The district had ceased to be an extraction centre to become a product processing and transformation centre, both from local and external quarries, which reduced their dependence on local raw materials and acquiring higher value and better offers.
In this process, international expansion has played a vital role, based on research and innovation carried out by one of the companies, Cosentino, during the decade of the 80s and that would become a world leading firm for artificial agglomerates, hardly using any local raw materials.
Around the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, the composition of the district is very different from what it was 20 years ago. A great dominant enterprise, Cosentino, has made it presence felt, producing an income level from the factory located in the area that represents 90, 8% of the whole district, around 12 small enterprises, of which only 4 employ more than 20 workers and have a relevant external projection, and a pack consisting of scores of microenterprises, which in many cases carry out work for the ones previously mentioned.
Although Cosentino carries a lot of weight in the district, around del 95% of its billing is due to artificial agglomerates (Silestone, Dekton…), which places it in a particular situation, since the activity of the other companies revolves around marble extraction, processing and transformation.
Besides the employment it generates, Cosentino’s decision to maintain its headquarters and a considerable part of its activities within the district has had a highly positive impact, like the support and collaboration it offers other companies in different areas or its involvement in educational or sociocultural projects, etc. Furthermore, because of its size, it is the main funding entity of professional institutions and associations of which it is a member and has attracted important public investment that has improved services and infrastructure.
On the other hand, the firm commitment of the leading companies to offer a first class product, together with their on-site location, and their efforts to increase their presence in outside markets, has developed activities in collaboration with smaller companies, a situation which is yielding very positive results. Recognition of Macael marble, as protected geographical indication (PGI) which is currently being processed and is expected to come through in the near future, will guarantee its high quality, facilitate product differentiation and protect it from dishonest competition.
Regardless of the difficulties that this activity has encountered through time, due to the long standing link of the district inhabitants with the marble industry that has spread through centuries, it has a strong socio-territorial component, with an important presence of supporting activities, a highly specialised labour market with firm social and cultural connections. All these occurrences, which remind us of the Marshallian district, where “the mysteries of the trade become no mysteries, but are as it were in the air and children learn many of them unconsciously” Alfred (Marshall, 1890: 198 The Principles of Economics), a theory that can be matched with no difficulty to the properties that Becattini attributes to industrial areas, “socioterritorial entity characterised by the active presence of both a community of people and a population of firms in one naturally and historically bounded area…the community and the firms tend as it were to merge” (Becattini, 1992: 62-63). As it has occurred in other cases, the evolution of the district has led to the surge of a great enterprise in its midst, in this case, a multinational leading company in its products, which at the same time drives the whole set up and hardly uses any local raw material in its preparation process. On the other hand, history reflects the high capability and resilience demonstrated by the district’s population.
There are several issues that cannot be disregarded when considering the future of the area and of the socioeconomic development of the Marble Region. These appear to depend on Cosentino’s prestige and relevance. What would happen if it failed? What long-term measures could be taken to minimise the impact of a possible decrease in activity? Due, for example to the relocation of part of its activities? It is important to bear in mind that Cosentino is at present a first generation family business.||es_ES