Last week I made one of my regular trips back to Tangier, the town where I was born and a city where Diligencia now has a team of over 20 researchers helping us provide reliable and accurate company information for the MENA region. Every time I go back there I am struck by the city’s mixture of history and modernity – summed up by the sight of the old Kasbah overlooking a new leisure marina development next to the corniche – as well as its strategic position on both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts whilst looking across the straits to Europe. It is also a place where many international cultures and influences have long mixed; it is not unusual to hear French, Arabic, Spanish and English being spoken in Tangier, sometimes in the same conversation.
It is these three factors – old vs. new, strategic location, and international influences – which are steadily changing the size and shape of Tangier. Not only has the city’s population quadrupled in the last 25 years, but its mix of industries have changed – moving away from agriculture and production of basic materials to business process outsourcing and automobile manufacturing – Renault has a large plant outside the city, for example. Tangier’s position at the gateway to Africa yet within easy reach of Europe is key to its growth; the new port at Tangier-Med is now the continent’s biggest, and the city is becoming more connected with international flights and not least the new high speed train that will soon halve the 4-hour journey time from Casablanca.
International investors from France and the Gulf are part-funding this particular project, encouraged by investor-friendly policies introduced by the current government. China is another major investor in the region and is constructing a large automotive parts manufacturing complex outside Tangier – adding to the mix of cultures and influences present in the country.
But this is not just the story of one city. These three factors can be seen at work across Morocco and the country is emerging as a rare success story amongst its peers in the Maghreb. The economy is not without its challenges – unemployment is high, the education system does not always produce the skills that the knowledge economy increasingly needs, and aspects of the country’s governance and labour laws are in desperate need of reform. However if these and other reforms can be achieved Morocco could be on the path to success, with the World Bank forecasting GDP growth of at least 3.5% over the medium term. And that is why Diligencia, along with many other international companies, are choosing Morocco – and cities like Tangier – as the place to grow their business.