Early in the morning of May 29, 2012, Mauro Mantovani, the powerhouse founder and driving force behind Aires Biomedical Devices in Mirandola/Italy, was already up and working with some of his employees in his badly damaged warehouse.
The men intended to rescue everything worth rescuing after the severe earthquake that had struck Emila-Romagna a little over one week before and pack emergency deliveries for nearby hospitals that were treating the many people wounded and injured. When another earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale shook the earth around Mirandola at 9:00 am, five of the men managed to escape from the building. The 63-year old entrepreneur and three of his staff, however, were killed in the ruins of the collapsing warehouse. The earthquake caused significant damage to homes and business premises, churches and industrial buildings throughout the region. Overall, the earthquake left 26 people dead and 14,000 homeless, many of whom are still living in Portakabins today. The rubble also buried many of the achievements of five decades of enthusiasm and innovative power in Europe's largest center of biotechnology.
Biotech center in Mirandola – the flagship of Italy
Mirandola is a pretty little town in northern Emila-Romagna with a population of around 25,000. The wealthy region located amidst charming countryside is one of the flagships of crisis-ridden Italy. There, purchasing power is one-third above the EU average and a great diversity of industries and agriculture provide jobs and wealth. Around 100 manufacturers of Medical Devices, suppliers and laboratories, spanning multinationals but also small and medium-sized enterprises, have established operations in and around Mirandola. The breathtaking development that has made Mirandola Europe's largest cluster of biotechnology is vivid proof of the unique entrepreneurial spirit and solidarity of the people in this region.
5,000 people work in medical technology in and around Mirandola and generated sales of over 800 million euros in 2011, 40% of which came from exports. The people here are proud to have been born in this region and have helped to make it one of the leading centers of expertise and economic hubs of Italy. Large multinationals including B. Braun, Fresenius, Gambro, Bellco and others have invested in Mirandola. On April 20, 2012, the Biotech "family" threw a big party in celebration of its 50-year anniversary. Since the earthquake of May 29, which landed a second annihilating blow on the entire region and paralyzed around 70% of production capacities, they are busy rebuilding their industry, carrying out their work in provisional containers and tents.
Getting back on their feet immediately – for the people in Mirandola it's in their nature
'Scucire le maniche' – rolling up their sleeves! The people of Mirandola can't help it; it's in their nature to get back on their feet and simply start all over again, says Emilia Pistone, who works for TÜV SÜD PS in Italy and supports numerous companies in Mirandola. Maria Louisa Mantovani, the widow of Aires founder Mauro, and her son Maurizio also did not hesitate. Their main concern now is the 25 Aires employees and their families. If production capacities were now relocated to safer locations or even abroad, Italy's biotech cluster and its unique success story would come to an end. There is huge solidarity. Employees, friends and family are all rolling up their sleeves and helping. Suppliers, business partners and even competitors have offered their assistance, says Vice President Alessio Caleffi in an interview on YouTube spreading optimism. After all, Aires means far more than bricks and mortar; it is also made up of the people who work there.
Solidarity instead of financial support
In the province of Ferrara, around one hour's drive from Mirandola, the administration praises the effectiveness of the government's aid programme. The government had announced financial aids and tax reliefs for companies that rebuilt their destroyed production facilities. "Not a single company left the region after the earthquake," says Marcella Zappaterra, President of the Italian Province of Ferrara, proudly. The entrepreneurs in Mirandola also stayed on, but had to finance the new start out of their own pockets. With the exception of a temporary suspension of the land tax, the government funds came in dribs and drabs or not at all – in any case, they took far too long to reach the entrepreneurs. Regarding earthquake prevention, Italy has also learned little from Aquila in 2009. It was the people of Mirandola themselves that have made the new start possible.