A recent order in Algeria worth 90 million euros, and consolidated relations in Ghana, the sub-Saharan country where the GDP is growing at the rate of 9% annually.
Luigi Gozzi, head of the company of the same name based in Pianezza, near Turin, with 300 employees and 74 million euro turnover, knows his way around this new Eldorado, obtaining orders for large technological installations.
He is the symbol of what the African continent can offer our medium-sized companies.
It is a business that basically involves the construction of important works of urban design, infrastructures and the supply of production plants, and it can easily follow in the wake of established relations of past and recent history obtained by giants like Enel or Eni.
How? "By establishing contacts with institutions and private enterprises" says Gozzo.
"The new ICE (the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade) is active there, as always, through the network of its embassies. But that is not enough. It is important to organize business networks, local marketing initiatives, contacts between the associations of producers."
Gozzo keeps an eye on the BRIC countries and on Africa, and comments: "We are not active enough there. It is important to move before anyone else, to have a vision. That is what the Chinese have done.
The BRIC countries have been and still are an important outlet for our exports, but their growth is slowing. This is not readily perceptible, but the business is decreasing. Africa, on the other hand, is booming, and it is closer to us in many way, even culturally.
Above all it has a strong demand for quality production and won't be satisfied with anything less".
In short, when it comes to big jobs, supplies or technological infrastructures, Africa looks toward Europe, often toward Italy "forcing even the Chinese companies, which at one time or another have all tried to ride the wave of African development and exploitation of its raw materials, to form alliances with Italian suppliers".
It is possible to do business in Africa, with or without the Chinese (who have just signed an agreement for cooperation on energy with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa).
It is important to focus on the data of the International Monetary Fund, which has calculated that in 2012 sub-Saharan Africa will report an increase of the GDP close to 6% and will be able to attract investments for 90 billion dollars.
"My first order in Africa goes back to five years ago, when a construction company incorporated under the laws of Ghana, but owned by three generations of a family of Italian entrepreneurs, contacted me to participate in a tender for the construction of a five-star hotel in Accra (the capital of Ghana), what is now the largest in West Africa.
This order was the launching pad. But it wasn't easy. My first solitary, inconclusive but hopeful explorations in Africa go back to more than ten years ago.
When I began to understand that contracts with the Italian government and the domestic market would not have guaranteed my future."
Now Accra has become an international business center, and it is necessary to reserve weeks in advance to spend the night in the capital. The Arab Spring also opened new frontiers and even the international law office of Baker&McKenzie has just opened an office in Casablanca.
"The Algerian order (with a value of 700 million) was obtained on the strength of established African relations. We will be building the largest international conference center of Algiers, which is expected to become a reference for meetings of the entire Arab world" continues Luigi Gozzo, "and we were contacted by the general contractor, the Chinese construction company CSCEC, one of the top ten in the world, to provide all the technological installations, because the client demanded high quality made in Europe for the technological part. We had our first meeting in April 2011, and on 8 August we had already formalized the agreement unofficially. In short, an order for 90 million euros obtained in just 4 months. In Italy it would have been a mirage".
Now is the time for stipulating the formal contracts. The credit lines will be guaranteed by Intesa San Paolo and the insurance on the country risk will be covered by SACE. "The rest is work. Always in search of new horizons."