Exports in the districts of Leiria correspond to around 30% of the region's GDP, says António Poças, the president of NERLEI - Business Association of the Leiria Region. The sectors that export most are wholesale and retail trade with 37% of that volume, followed by manufacturing industries with a weight of 34%. It should be noted that the region's exports have doubled in the last 10 years.
The situation changed with the pandemic and Jorge Santos, former president of NERLEI and current executive director of the Leiria Economic and Social Support Office, says that the first half of the year does not exist, but “the most significant were the increase in unemployment in April and May ”. He says that “there was an important retraction in GDP and in the volume of employment”, not yet knowing its extent. He added that “for now there has not yet been an impact on the number of companies”. Jorge Santos assumes that “in general, economic activity is seriously affected with a high level of uncertainty regarding the recovery. The impact has been asymmetric in companies in different sectors and also within the same sectors. If we exclude companies linked to some of the sectors (ex: food, health and construction), as a rule, all the others registered declines in activity ”, and gives the example of some situations illustrating the asymmetries. He stresses that “tourism has rapidly reduced activity and there is no prospect of a short-term recovery. Restoration and non-food trade reopened in July but with activity far from what is necessary to sustain business. Industrial companies producing non-health and food goods recorded an abrupt decline in April with an increasing recovery, with July already close to the same counterpart of 1. Industrial equipment companies with longer production cycles ended their orders and failed to raise enough new orders to keep the activity at acceptable levels in the 2019nd semester. In the area of services, the impact is being important especially for those whose activity depends on investment in goods and services. The business fabric of the Leiria region in the various crises has always shown its resilience and an extraordinary capacity for recovery. Although we are still in the midst of a crisis, we already have some evidence that allows us to think that once again we will have a faster recovery than the average of the Portuguese economy ”. For his part, the president of NERLEI stresses that one cannot forget the automobile sector "which was one of the most affected".
The digital culture “starts to exist in practically all business areas, from agriculture to industry, to commerce and services”, says António Poças. It reinforces that digital culture is boosted by the birth of “many good new companies”.
The president of NERLEI stresses “that the environment and sustainability are themes that are already incorporated in all economic activities, although we know that we still have a long way to go. In our region, and as a result of the activity of the Circular Economy Working Group mentioned above, we are becoming aware of very promising work at this level in many different sectors ranging from industry, to the primary sector (agriculture, forestry and animal production). The plastics industry, one of the industrial sectors with a strong weight in the regional economy, has done an excellent job in this area, adapting the activity to the legal environmental requirements and also of consumers ”. He stresses that digitization and the sustainability of the economy are two fundamental ideas that are already taking root in the business of the future. The Circular Economy Working Group, created in late 2018, has the main objective of identifying the constraints, challenges and opportunities of companies in the region and at this level ”.
But the region did more and created a working group within the business association of Leiria, NERLEI, and the Polytechnic of Leiria. Gonçalo Lopes, Mayor of Leiria says that the municipality “will transform the northern top of the Leiria Municipal Stadium into a Business Center, in order to provide it with the infrastructure that makes it attractive for investment in the area of new technologies, a space that will also host an Associative and Arts Center. The Leiria Business Center will have state-of-the-art facilities in technical, technological and security terms for the building, which becomes modern and intelligent, for the installation of technology-based companies. This project will have a structural impact on the future of the municipality, with the creation of a technological ecosystem, which will capitalize on the companies already installed and make this territory increasingly attractive for the installation of technology-based companies ”. The president of the municipality also says that the intention is to “create conditions to retain and attract talent, reversing the trend of population loss that has been seen in recent years. The model designed for this part of the stadium received contributions from external entities, such as the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, NERLEI and the TICE.Leiria group, and several associative entities, both in the area of culture and sports, in the case of the Center Associative, who were involved in defining a strategy for our common future. With this investment, it is intended that Leiria is a city of business, entrepreneurship, innovation and culture, open to companies and talent from all sources. For this to be achieved, there must be a favorable environment for investment, one of which is innovation and the existence of infrastructures and equipment that enhance it ”.
Asked about how he would like to see the region in economic terms, António Poças stressed that if today “it is very diversified in terms of sectors, essentially composed of SMEs and quite exporting, within 10 years we would like it to be more circular, decarbonized and digital. And also with companies of bigger dimension and scale, much more capitalized and exporters of products of greater added value ”. He adds that the lack of an efficient railway “is a serious problem”. The West Line is obsolete and out of touch with reality. He defends the opening of the Monte Real Air Base to civilian traffic, while there is a lack of skills in the hospital center, in addition to other investment needs in the health area in the region that do not pass through the hospital. The GES Leiria Region or Economic and Social Office of the Leiria Region has developed, with the contribution of 11 working groups, an economic and social plan for the region that is now being worked on in order to guarantee this exploitation, “positioning the region of Leiria for the presentation of projects that promote regional development ”, says the president of NERLEI.
And regarding the immediate future and the fear of a second wave of the pandemic, Jorge Santos, from the Economic Support Office, says that “in the period in which we live, until now, we have learned to live with the virus without having to stop activities. The great uncertainty is the impact and how the economies of our clients' countries will react, where we send our products and services to ”.