Catania (Italy) (AFP)
While sipping a craft beer on a warm spring evening in Catania, Sicily, Corrado Paterno Castello thinks of his friends and colleagues whom he left behind in Milan, 1,000 kilometers to the north.
“Today, between meetings, I took a swim at the beach,” the 29-year-old entrepreneur told AFP with a beaming smile.
“The quality of life you have here is very different from what you experience in the North, and it is priceless. “
Workers around the world have taken advantage of forced homework during the coronavirus pandemic to move to warmer climates, requiring only an outlet for their laptops and a decent internet connection.
But in Italy, where for generations relatively poorer southerners have looked for work in the north, it has been a chance for people like Paterno Castello to return home – perhaps for good.
– ‘Free return’ –
Italy has a long history of regional disparities, resulting in internal migration from rural or underdeveloped areas, mainly in the south, to wealthier urban centers in the north like Milan, a center of business, fashion and finance. .
“Outside of my high school class, almost everyone left… at least 15 out of 20 people,” said Elena Militello, doctoral student from Palermo.
“But now some have returned, there is a group of three who have returned to Sicily and found work. “
The 28-year-old returned in 2020 after spending years in Milan, the United States, Germany and Luxembourg, and is now actively campaigning for more people to follow in her footsteps.
# photo1 She is one of the founders of the South Working Association, which acts as a think tank, advocacy group and support network for anyone considering relocating to the south. He has around 10,000 followers on Facebook.
On its website, the association calls itself a community of “young professionals, managers, entrepreneurs and academics, mostly born in southern Italy”, who have left to pursue their ambitions.
“Today, our common desire is to be able and to be able to return home,” they say.
Svimez, a research institute, said in December that as many as 100,000 workers traveled south during the pandemic, adding that it was a historic opportunity to reverse the brain drain plaguing southern l ‘Italy.
– ‘Huge potential’ –
Before the pandemic struck, Milan was considered the most dynamic and prosperous city in Italy.
But the south has many benefits, ranging from the cheaper cost of living to reduced traffic and pollution – and the climate. In Catania, average temperatures do not drop below 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit), even in the middle of winter.
Mariano Corso, professor of leadership and innovation at the School of Management at the Polytechnic University of Milan, said the so-called southern labor phenomenon could benefit all of Italy.
# photo2 A healthy “competition between territories” should drive up public services everywhere, and “for cities in the south, this is a huge opportunity to seize the moment … and get back into the game,” he said .
Public transport and the internet can be a problem throughout the south, including Sicily, but the Militello association is pushing for better service.
It is also partnering with private investors developing coworking spaces for workers in the south.
One is slated to open next month at Palazzo Biscari, a grandiose 18th-century palace in downtown Catania, once used as the backdrop for a Coldplay music video.
“I can see dozens of companies and hundreds of people working here,” Antonio Perdichizzi, founder of the Isola Catania coworking space, told AFP, as workers and decorators ran around him in brightly colored rooms.
“There is huge potential in having young and old people who have worked in Italy and Europe or other parts of the world and who are returning home due to the pandemic. “
– A new buzz –
Jobs in Sicily are still hard to find – unemployment in 2020 was 18%, double the national average – but a growing number of people moving there while working online for northern companies are creating their own buzz.
After studying and working in Milan, Paris and Tunisia, Paterno Castello returned to Catania last year to work from home. During his stay, he reunited with a friend from high school to launch an organic start-up called Boniviri.
While admitting that the cultural and social scene of a city of about 300,000 inhabitants does not match the more cosmopolitan vibe of Milan, he describes Catania as “a place where things happen”.
“A few years ago, it wasn’t like that, we had to go to the North to make things happen… now there is innovation, culture here too, there are young people like us who want to bring something new. “
© 2021 AFP