How Milan is reaping the rewards of the Expo effect

With Expo 2020 around the corner, how has Italy’s financial capital built on its time in the spotlight hosting Expo 2015?

27 gennaio 2020

At the start of 2020, Milan is a different city to the one that was gearing up to host the world’s biggest trade fair back in 2015.

Regeneration projects have transformed its centre, especially around Porta Nuova, and boosted its appeal as a place to work and live. Modern landmarks, such as Bosco Verticale and the Biblioteca degli Alberi, are showcasing sustainable urban living.

Meanwhile, the focus on innovation and technology, alongside its traditional strengths of fashion, food and finance, is fueling a growing digital economy where start-ups sit alongside multinational tech firms like Cisco, Google and IBM.

“The city really raised its game for the Expo which attracted 22 million visitors,” says Pierre Marin, chief executive of JLL Italy. “Milan is now reaping the rewards of that event’s impact on long-term thinking. There’s more confidence and belief among investors and employers.”

A new urban core

In recent years, Milan’s office market has shifted as investment breathed new life into previously overlooked areas and city centre working came back into vogue.

“There’s certainly appetite among large firms to move to more central addresses,” Marin says. “At the same time, Milan’s central business district has grown and spread out, bringing new areas such as Porta Nuova and Citylife into focus.”

Late last year, M&G Real Estate invested €136 million in a revamped multi-let office property near Porta Nuova, the mixed-use, 28-building strong regeneration project owned by the Qatar Investment Authority.

It’s become synonymous with cutting edge tech from Samsung’s smart home showrooms to Google.

Meanwhile, revived, well-connected districts such as Porta Romana and City Life are growing in popularity among corporates looking for centrally located office space – not to mention the coworking spaces and incubators supporting its evolving start-up scene.

“Milan’s office districts are now considerably less fragmented, and we now see areas joining up and the emergence of higher quality buildings,” says Marin.

More development, as well as infrastructure improvements, is planned in the coming years under Milan’s transformation masterplan, according to the city’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala.

South of the city, the living and office park Symbiosis, under development by listed French real estate group Covivio, will offer around 96,000 square meters of modern office space by 2022. Italian telecoms giant Fastweb recently moved 1,400 staff into the scheme’s first phase.

Keeping talent on home turf

The rise of new business districts is having another positive impact on Milan; keeping many of the young people who graduate from its seven universities in the city.

Italy’s loss of graduates seeking new experiences abroad has long dominated discussion. But young professionals are now being drawn to the likes of Brera, canal side district Navigli and Isola, home to coworking hub Talent Garden.

Tax incentives for international professionals, as well as for Italians who have been abroad for a minimum of five years and decide to return, could turn the tide.

“There’s a feeling that more young Italians are saying they’ll stay rather than go today,” he says. “On the living side, Milan is now able to offer several districts with bars, restaurants, good amenities and transport connections.

“The city is certainly now in a stronger position to be able to keep its talent.”

Furthermore, with a population of around 1.4 million, the city’s size means commute times are less than in other major European cities, appealing to many millennials looking for more of a work-life balance.

Marin believes that ongoing investments in the city’s digital infrastructure – from contactless payments for public transport to smart mobility solutions such as electric scooter sharing and electric vehicle charging points – will provide a further boost.

Equally, Vodafone Italia is investing €90 million in 5G coverage, working since late 2018 to trial the network with Milan manufacturers, universities, robotics institutes, local police units and hospitals.

“A smarter, more-connected city is essential,” concludes Marin. “The aim of digitally transforming Milan is both ambitious and vital if the city is to hold on to both talent and companies in the coming years.”


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