Bordered by the River Manzanares and geographically positioned in the very heart of the country, Spain’s dynamic capital city serves as the hub of Spanish government, economics and politics. Given that the city ranks as Southern Europe’s center of finance, it’s become the location of the operating offices for the preponderance of Spain’s major companies. With a metropolitan population of 6-plus million and a well-educated workforce, it’s not surprising to discover that the city’s patron saint is Isidro the Laborer.
Madrid is also the setting for some of Europe’s most exalted business schools, including IE, IESE and ESADE — each of which ranks among the world’s top 10 business institutions. Many of Spain’s largest companies — spanning the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, electronics, textile, aircraft and automobile industries — are headquartered in Madrid. And international investors have taken note: Due to a mix of geographic location, modern infrastructure and international cultural connections stemming from a shared history, Madrid has become the location of choice for a growing number of multinationals. Currently, more than 4,500 foreign companies operate here, including research and development centers for Lilly, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens, Motorola, IBM, Telefónica and Vodafone.
Part of the attraction stems from the city’s business-friendly legal framework, low labor costs and favorable tax structures. Adding to the appeal are regional government policies that encourage entrepreneurial and investment plans from foreign businesses by reducing paperwork and waiting time, making it simpler and faster to get things rolling. The Madrid City Council’s Madrid Emprende, an economic development agency, was designed specifically to attract foreign investors. Additional support comes from the Investors Support Office, which offers information on available commercial and industrial space, provides temporary offices on a courtesy basis, helps with administrative procedures and gives assistance with everything from legal and economic issues to a variety of family-related topics such as schools and relocation.
Over the past several years, Madrid has seen particularly rapid growth in the tourism sector. The city recently launched a new initiative in partnership with the Tokyo government to promote leisure and cultural tourism, with a focus on the Asian market. The collaboration centers on a joint campaign designed to increase the stream of visitors between the two cities. Madrid already has similar tourism exchange initiatives in place with São Paulo, New York, Buenos Aires and Mexico’s Federal District. The addition of Tokyo to this alliance is particularly significant to Madrid’s economy because of the amount of spending per Japanese visitor: While international visitors spend an average of 96 euros per day, Japanese visitors account for a daily average expenditure of 230 euros.
Business aside, Madrid is an attractive place to live. Besides its pleasant Continental-Mediterranean climate, excellent public health system, educational options and myriad cultural and outdoor attractions, it continues to be ranked as one of the safest places to live in Europe. Not a bad CV for any city.
A good way to experience Madrid is on foot, utilizing the efficient and easy-to-navigate Metro de Madrid for extended distances. Historic must-sees include Puerta de Alcalá, the decorative city gate located at Plaza de la Independencia, and Casa de Cisneros (Plaza de la Villa 4), a splendid palace now connected to Town Hall.
While there’s an abundance of monuments and beautiful churches to choose from, be sure to visit the city’s ode to Gothic architecture, La Capilla del Obispo (Plaza de la Paja 9), the Bishop’s Chapel. Dating to 1535, it was intended to accommodate the remains of the city’s patron saint, though the remains were ultimately placed in the adjoining Iglesia de San Andrés. There’s also the magnificent Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (Carrera de San Francisco) with its imposing dome, six side chapels and an art collection boasting works by Zurburán and Goya.
Take a guided tour of Palacio Real (Calle Bailen), filled with art, tapestries and frescos and surrounded by stunning parkland near Plaza de Oriente. Madrid loves its art, and a host of museums and galleries showcase contemporary works plus gems from Spanish greats including Dalí, Goya, El Greco and Picasso. You won’t want to miss Museo Nacional del Prado (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23, tel 34 91 330 2800), Reina Sofía (Santa Isabel 52, tel 34 91 774 1000) and CaixaForum (Paseo del Prado 36, tel 34 91 330 7300).
Since visiting Madrid without taking in a flamenco show would be like touring a vineyard without tasting the wine, make sure to schedule time at a tablao, or flamenco club. Make reservations; performances typically get under way very late in the evening, usually after 10 p.m. Enjoy authentic flamenco at Las Carboneras (Plaza del Conde de Miranda 1, tel 34 91 542 8677), Cardamomo (Echegaray 15, tel 34 91 369 0757) and Las Tablas (Plaza de España 9, tel 34 91 542 0520). Some clubs offer pre-show dinners.
For cultural drama of a different kind, the city offers corridas, or bullfights, at the massive Plaza Toros Las Ventas (Calle Alcala 237, tel 34 91 356 2200), famous for its red brick and ceramic tile architecture. The season runs from March until October, with fights typically offered on Sundays. You can enjoy contests not involving a hoofed component at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Avenida de Concha Espina), provided you buy tickets well in advance. For grand spectacle in opulent surroundings, book tickets for a night at the splendid Teatro Real (tel 34 91 516 0660), opposite the Palacio Real, where opera’s elite regularly take the stage. During intermission, head to the sixth floor and order a glass of Spanish wine at the Café de Palacio. Not only can you gaze out at stunning views of the palace and La Almudena Cathedral, you can sip while perusing exhibits on loan from area museums.
Just The Facts
Time Zone: GMT + 2
Phone Code: 34 Spain, 91 Madrid
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay and may stay up to 90 days without a visa.
Official Language: Spanish
Key Industries: Textiles, food and beverages (including fruit and wine), metals, metal manufacturing, chemicals, shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, machine tools, tourism, clay and refra ctory products, footwear, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment.
Info To Go
Metro de Madrid Line 8 connects Madrid-Barajas International Airport (MAD) to the city’s central station in about 30 minutes (2 euros) from two stations, one in Terminal 4 and the other serving T1, T2 and T3. The EMT (Madrid Municipal Transport Company) provides regular service downtown from T1 and T2 via Bus 200 and from T4 via Bus 204.
Modern boutique with 41 guestrooms and full-service Bodyna Spa is next to the Parque del Retiro, facing the Puerta de Alcalá. Plaza de la Independencia 3, tel 34 91 432 2911, $$$
Hotel Ritz, Madrid
This elegant gem, originally built by King Alfonso XIIIIIIIII, is an easy walk to the city’s center, the Prado and the Thyssen Museum. Plaza de la Lealtad 5, tel 34 91 701 6767, $$$$
Radisson Blu Hotel
Adjacent to the CaixaForum cultural center and across from the Prado, this property offers 54 boutique-style guestrooms decorated by top Spanish designers. Calle Moratin 52, tel 34 91 524 2626, $$$
Bistro Madrigal 14
Local celebrity chef Andres Madrigal puts an haute spin on regional comfort foods. Closed Sunday and Monday; reservations advised. Calle Arte 14, tel 34 91 384 6807 $$$
One of the city’s hottest tapas bars occupies two levels and has a great selection of wine. Closed Sundays. Calle Bárbara de Braganza 2, tel 34 91 319 9457, $$$
Enjoy Spanish-Chinese fusion in hip, minimalist surroundings. Try the dim sum with Spanish potato filling. Closed Sunday and Monday evenings. Calle Pensamiento 28, tel 34 91 570 0766, $$$
Checking In With Miguel Ángel Villanueva
Madrid City Councilor and Head of the Municipal Department of Economic Affairs, Employment and Citizen Participation
What Is The Most Exciting Area Of Economic Growth In Madrid?
Madrid is one of the most important destinations in Europe, and tourism is a very dynamic sector. Despite the global crisis, performance of the tourism sector has been remarkable — especially foreign tourism, which has grown by 17 percent compared to the previous 12 months.
Has There Been Any Downside To The City’s Economic Growth?
Our main goal now is to maintain and create employment, which, even though it fares better than the national average, has been weak even in those sectors that are performing relatively well, like tourism. As in other countries and cities, construction and real estate markets have been most affected by job losses during the economic crisis. Today, we have 13 percent fewer workers in the Social Security system, although the trend is clearly changing and job reductions are minimal on a month-to-month basis now.
How Does Madrid’s Comparatively Low Minimum Wage Reconcile With Its High Cost Of Living?
While it is true that Spanish wages are below the E.U. average, the minimum wage is not a good reference, since it affects only a tenth of Spanish workers. The best measure is purchasing power parity; in that sense, Madrid is 75 percent above the Spanish average for 2009 and 80 percent above the average for the 27 member states of the European Union. So, even though Madrid has been affected by the recent international slowdown, growth over the last two decades has provided a solid economic basis and a very competitive cost of living compared to other leading world cities.
What Is Madrid’s Business Outlook For 2011?
After years of growth, the global economy faces a much more complex and challenging period, with new risks and rewards. In this new context of global recession, Madrid’s economic growth has obviously been affected. Nevertheless, we have not stopped working hard to offer excellent solutions for the development of local and foreign companies — the key to making Madrid a successful city and to coming back to recent figures of growth.
The City of Madrid has a diversified, service-based economy; services account for 83.5 percent of the economy, and their expansion is the basis of the city’s growth, showing more positive figures compared to the country total during last year. Thanks to active policies of local economic development, [along with] the strength of global companies located here and the steady pace of tourism figures, we forecast a positive 0.9 percent growth in 2011 in terms of gross domestic product, after two years in negative figures.
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