Friday, November 25, 2011

FIAT and other disasters

Yesterday FIAT's plant in Termini Imerese closed its doors after 41 years, laying off over 1500 workers. Coming on the heels of recent flash floods and mudslides near Messina, which claimed several lives, this culminated a week of what seemed like Biblical Plagues.

The FIAT debacle is more complicated than a generic natural disaster. At one point the workers were offered majority or even full ownership of the plant but refused. Instead, most preferred to remain employees rather than to become the owners of an automobile plant. And most had worked in the plant for decades. The fact is that the era of permanent blue-collar jobs is coming to an end, at least in Europe.

The plant was a rather unusual proposition from the beginning, propped up by loads of public money to "persuade" (read bribe) Italy's - and now the world's - largest auto maker to set up shop in Sicily. Even for Italy, which has bailed out FIAT many times over the years, this seemed excessive. By 2005 the plant's productivity and efficiency were being questioned, for a variety of reasons, while many workers were absent at rates far beyond the national norm.

Tragic as the closure is for workers and their families, 1500 employees are not very significant, statistically speaking, in a region (Sicily) of five million. While the human cost is obvious, this is part of a general trend as numerous businesses have closed across Sicily and around Italy over the last few years, with precious few successful new ones to take their place. FIAT just happens to employ more people than the typical clothing store.

Not a pretty picture.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bankrupt? Italy's Crisis & La Dolce Vita

Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, while in trouble (read the insightful ABC News article published yesterday), probably won't reach the "meltdown" point of Greece, but changes are inevitable, beginning with the prime minister. Most changes will be budget cuts and tax increases. And perhaps a few more street protests, mostly by public-sector employees.

From a recent AP story: "Italy's economy is hampered by high wage costs, low productivity, fat government payrolls, excessive taxes, choking bureaucracy, and an educational system that produces one of the lowest levels of college graduates among rich countries."

Italy has more public employees than most European nations (per capita). The occasional street protest is a way of life here in Sicily, and in Italy generally, so for most visitors it's an annoying but "acceptable" inconvenience. The sights, sites and monuments will still be open.

That's not to suggest that the effects of the economic recession in Sicily are not evident to those who live here, but for the most part, Italy's economic problems aren't something you (as a visitor) would actually see unless you scratched beneath the surface. Even unemployment, though a statistical reality, seems "invisible" here in Italy. That's because most "young" people live with parents until marriage or placement in a decent job, even well into their 30s, so despite high unemployment there aren't a lot of homeless people about or, for that matter, twentysomethings struggling to pay the rent. And it's true that the restaurants are always full - of Italians, not just tourists - while Italians rarely deny themselves a vacation abroad. La dolce vita is alive and well in Italy. Viva l'Italia!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Best of Sicily for iPhone and Android

Here in Italy, Samsung and Apple may be fighting over patent rights, but that hasn't stopped us from launching a site that works with both phones (Samsung's uses the Android operating system).

We've had a small mobile site since 2006, long before any other site here in Sicily (or even many dealing with Sicily). With the recent generation of devices - smart phones introduced since around 2008 - it's possible to access certain websites without much loss in quality. Luckily, Best of Sicily, with our simple design, is one of them, so the "iPhone site" is really just a few pages you're automatically directed to when you visit us using an iPhone or various phones that use Android.

The practical result of this is that it's easier than ever to take Best of Sicily with you wherever you go, including Italy.