Central Region:”It is in diversity that is the identity and strength of the Center”
A dynamic, innovative and heterogeneous region, the Center has established itself as a pole of tourist attraction and economic. The Center 2020 Program is an ally to boost the region, with a budget of 2155 million euros. Competitiveness, science and technology, policy of cities and territories of low density are the main areas of action of this program, explains Ana Abrunhosa, president of the Commission for Coordination and Regional Development of the Center.
The 2020 Center Program has an allocation of around 2155 million euros and focuses on nine strategic axes. What are the guiding principles of this program that stands out?
In practice, the program has 10 axes, since one is of management and technical assistance. The others are aimed at meeting the Europe 2020 strategy, which is essentially innovation, competitiveness and internationalization. I can say that one of the main objectives of the program is territorial cohesion and the reduction of territorial asymmetries, namely the improvement of the quality of life and the competitiveness of the most fragile territories. On the other hand, I emphasize axis 1, focused on science and technology projects (research, development and innovation), axis 2, for competitiveness and internationalization of the regional economy, axis 7 (affirmation of the sustainability of territories) and 9, aimed at improving the quality of life of the territories through the policy of cities. Globally, we have about 300 million euros for urban regeneration of cities, and the main idea is the qualification of the public space. At the same time, we have a special program for low density areas, with the focus being on reducing asymmetries by enhancing the economic resources of the territories. It is intended to create conditions for economic activity and the inclusion of knowledge and technology. Within this Community framework we have a new area associated with the European Social Fund which incorporates measures to promote employability and training. For example, we have about 35 million euros for doctoral programs and measures to support the creation of own employment. We also have a very important area that is growing that is the tourist promotion, which focuses on the qualification of the cultural equipment and the tourist promotion of the territories.
How do you evaluate the results of the program so far?
In terms of competitiveness, the program has been a success. Comparing March 2017 to March 2010, at the level of executions and approvals, I can say that we are a year ahead. These data are essentially due to four factors: a demystification of something that was perceived as complex and bureaucratic, as agents are increasingly informed and the possibility of financing business strategies through community funds is already discussed; the improvement of the international environment, since there is a huge demand for national products, taking into account that Made in Portugal is synonymous of quality and companies need investment in technological innovation to respond to demand; the quality of our educational institutions, which increasingly works closely with companies, passing their knowledge to society and allowing the creation of value; and, finally, the support given by banks to local businesses in areas where Community support does not apply. These factors led to the fact that in the Central region, for businesses, which was about 400 million euros, is fully committed. The execution rate is 26 percent, and currently we are the region with the highest execution rate. In this program, we also have support to the entrepreneurial spirit – SI2E – in partnership with the Local Action Groups and the Intermunicipal Communities. This support, which allows financing of investment and contracting, has an endowment of around 85 million euros. Still, in the area of competitiveness, in low-density territories we maintain support for PROVERE, distributed in 10 million euros for five projects: Shale Villages Network, Historical Villages of Portugal, Valuation of the Center’s Thermal Spas, iNature – Sustainable Tourism in Classified Areas and Beira Baixa – Lands of Excellence. In the axes associated to the Policy of Cities we have the approval of 300 million euros, being that we have commitments with 100 municipalities of the region for the intervention in public space and in public buildings. In these strategies, we have approved 60 million euros in 120 concrete projects. This is a very important area because we currently live and work in cities and it is important to create the conditions to work, to live and to visit. For example, many municipalities will revitalize city center buildings for the creation of co-working spaces. In this context, we also have the IFRRU 2020 – Financial Instrument for Urban Rehabilitation and Revitalization, which totals 1,400 million euros. In the area of science and technology, in relation to direct support for university projects, we have 35 million euros approved, mainly research projects aimed at solving problems of society in the area of energy, environment, health, materials.
What is the economic potential of the region that has allowed the national and international affirmation of the territory?
Internationally, our cities are known to have a high quality of life, which is a relevant factor for external investment. No upper board moves from another country if the destination city does not have a good quality of life, with conditions in culture, education, health, leisure, housing. In the international rankings that measure the quality of life of the cities, several cities of the Center region are in good positions. A second aspect is that our councilors are real ambassadors and agents of attraction of investment, facilitating the implementation of companies. On the other hand, in the region we have a regional innovation system, that is, we have a set of knowledge producing entities working with companies in research and development, which allows us to add value.