TEXTILE-FACTORY owner Graziano Daviddi has just gotten a
complaint from a customer that the cloth is too thick. With a few
taps on his computerized weaving machine, Mr. Daviddi corrects the
problem and the new, multicolor wool cloth comes tumbling out.
"You notice the noise level is also quite manageable," Daviddi
says, "because we installed special baffles in the ceilings and
inside the machines themselves."
State-of-the-art equipment and flexible production methods
account for much of the success of more than 2,400 textile and
knitwear garment factories in this small town 100 miles southeast
of Milan. Small shoe manufacturers and ceramic floor tile
businesses enjoy similar success here in the province of Emilia
The region enjoys a 6 percent annual growth rate and virtually
no unemployment at a time when Italy faces 11 percent joblessness
Emilia Romagna is certainly an Italian success story, says
Federico Galdi, director of International Relations for the
national employers trade group Confindustria. "One of the secrets
of Italian fashion," he says, "is that by using small scale
production rather than the big factories with 3,000 workers, they
are capable of introducing a new collection in only two weeks."
Another secret is that for years Emilia Romagna has been
governed by the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) and by its successor
organization, the Party of the Democratic Left (PDS). While the
ruling Christian Democratic and Socialist parties in Rome promoted
large-scale industry such as Fiat and Olivetti, the communists
sponsored co-ops and small factories.
In one of the ironies of the post-cold-war era, large industries
face serious problems in the former Soviet Union and Italy, while
communist-inspired, small-scale capitalism is thriving in "red
From cheap labor to high skills
German companies first opened garment factories in Emilia
Romagna in the late 1950s, seeking low-cost labor. That surge
coincided with layoffs and political purges of communist workers
from some large factories, according to Angelo Orru, head of La
Fenice Garment Company in Carpi. Unable to find other work, some of
those communists set up small factories.
"They transformed themselves into entrepreneurs," Mr. Orru says.
"They were not investing and speculating; they were working hard."
By the late 1970s the Communist Party was voted into office in
Emilia Romagna and many of its cities. The PCI was determined to
show that it could effectively govern in Italy and started a
campaign to promote economic growth. …