Italy's 153 industrial clusters – a very important factor in the country's economy – raised their exports of the products in which they specialize by 5.3 percent to €105.6 billion in 2017, driven by the metalworking and fashion industries. The export growth accelerated in the fourth quarter to reach 6.4 percent, according to a survey carried out by the Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo. This contrasts with a 0.1 percent decline recorded in 2016, indicating that the demand for Italian-made products is rising.

The leathergoods and footwear clusters of Florence and Arezzo, which are both located in the region of Tuscany, were among the 30 districts that posted the highest increase in the value of their exports. Florence, which is Italy's largest industrial cluster in terms of exports, posted a 10.4 percent increase in exports of these products to €3.777 billion. The increase in value was €356.8 million, placing the cluster in third position in terms of growth after the jewelry cluster in Valenza, a town near Alessandria, and Brescia's metalworking cluster. In the fourth quarter, Florence's exports rose by 13.8 percent.

When narrowed down to just footwear, exports from Florence grew by 2.2 percent in 2017 to €1.233 billion. In the fourth quarter, the increase reached 3.9 percent.

Last year, Arezzo enjoyed a 32.7 percent jump to €611.4 million in exports of leathergoods and footwear, making it 10th fastest-growing entity among the 153 clusters surveyed by the bank. In the fourth quarter, the surge slowed down to 11.4 percent. When limited to footwear, exports from Arezzo grew by 37.9 percent to €236 million in 2017 and by 25.0 percent in the last quarter.

The large footwear cluster around Fermo, in the region of Le Marche, suffered a 1.7 percent decrease in exports to €1.375 billion as a strong increase in sales to Russia failed to offset a drop in exports toward the U.S., France and Belgium.

Among the other leading footwear clusters, Montebelluna, which specializes in sports shoes, posted a 6.2 percent increase in annual exports to €1,069 million, with growth of 9.8 percent in the fourth quarter. The more fashion-oriented footwear cluster along the Riviera del Brenta, in the Veneto region, booked exports of €802 million in 2017, down 0.5 percent to €323 million for companies in the province of Padua and up by 9.6 percent to €479 million for those located in the province of Venice.

As already reported in another study released by Assocalzaturifici (see our previous issue), Switzerland and France were the two export markets that grew the most in value last year. According to Intesa Sanpaolo, Switzerland reinforced its status as a logistics hub, especially for important leathergoods and shoe manufacturers located around Florence. France was also a key destination for Valenza's jewelry cluster and the shoemakers of the Riviera del Brenta.

Across all sectors, overall exports by Italian industrial clusters to Switzerland rose by 16.2 percent to €6,350 million in 2017, including a rise of 20.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Their total exports to France rose by 7.5 percent to €11,671 million in 2017, accelerating in the fourth quarter with an increase of 11.0 percent.