High technology drives Lucena’s cold sector to 15% annual growth

The air-conditioning industry has a turnover of 423 million in Andalusia, most of it in the province of Cordoba.

In the south of the province of Cordoba it is cold, very cold. There is so much that it is even exported. In Lucena it reaches 80 degrees below zero, below the Earth temperature record recorded in an inhabited place (in a Siberian village, -71.2º). The anomaly is not caused by rare atmospheric or climatological phenomena, but by an industry, that of cold and climate, capable of manufacturing machines that reach those temperatures from below, and up to 80º above zero, and sell them all over the world. The cold sector in Cordoba, especially in Lucena, is at the head of the country in terms of turnover, employment and technological development, which is an anomaly in a province with an economy based on tourism and agriculture and few resources in the secondary sector.

The AFAR (Association of Andalusian Refrigeration Manufacturers) cluster brings together most of the companies in the region: it had a turnover of 423 million of the 475 million in the entire sector, and 324 million reached Lucena, the city that houses the association’s base. To get an idea of the importance of Lucena in the manufacture of climatic equipment, it is enough to remember that in all Andalusia there are about thirty companies, of which 22 are associated with the cluster. Of these, 18 are in the province of Cordoba, and 14 are based in Lucena. By number of employees, only in Subbética there were last year 2,036 workers in the sector, when the sum of the industries of the province, including all sectors, reaches 42,600 workers.

According to Manuel Servián, manager of AFAR, “the sector of the cold grows of average to a rhythm of 15% annual” so much in invoicing as in employees. A fact to compare: the Spanish economy will progress this year to 2.1%, according to the IMF.

Examples of the boom

There are concrete examples of the boom in the sector in Lucena in recent years. The Keyter Group, focused on industrial refrigeration and air conditioning, grew by 40% in 2018 alone, and each year incorporates 50 workers into one of its three companies – currently 360 employees – according to data provided to ABC by Aurelio García, president of the conglomerate headquartered in Lucena. Another outstanding case is that of Efficold, a specialist in commercial refrigeration, which doubled its sales between 2013 and 2018, going from 37 million to 70 million and from a workforce of 356 workers to 530 on average.

Vsita general de una de las 14 naves de Grupo Keyter en Lucena

The refrigeration industry has always been there. Or at least since the end of the 60s, thanks to the cooperative Tecnicontrol -now defunct-, “the cradle of the current heads of the companies of today”, in the words of Manuel Servián. The first major change came at the end of the 1980s, when the company moved from one handcrafted product to another with integrated components. “That’s when Infrico, Coreco, Ciatesa, Docriluc are born”… some of the great current companies of the sector, remembers the manager of AFAR. At the turn of the millennium, the factories are more focused on exports, and in 2001 the association is created. But the revolution would not come until 2008-2010; then “the companies intend to collaborate even more between them” and AFAR “changes to the cluster mentality,” says Servián.

 

That’s the main difference between a cluster and a business association. In the first, companies jointly design solutions and innovative proposals, develop new technologies and contribute to the training of their workers. In these tasks, all go hand in hand, to the point that some catalogues of the companies of the sector of the cold of Lucena include references of other manufacturers associated to the cluster. “We no longer compete with each other,” says the AFAR manager. In the headquarters of the consortium you can see this collaboration, with equipment in tests – for hospitals or supermarkets, among others – developed by several companies in the cluster, in which each one contributes its knowledge.

Manuel Servián, en el exterior de la sede de AFAR

The rapid development of the cold sector in Lucena is not without its problems. The main one is the lack of land to house this type of factory, which requires large surfaces that do not exist in any municipality, not even in the capital. The Keyter Group is forced to work in 14 separate warehouses, a logistical nonsense. It will solve the nightmare with a large factory next to the current Infrico, for which it has needed its own urban development project that already has the initial approval of the City Council. “But that doesn’t solve the problem for companies that want to come to Lucena; there’s no ground for them,” Manuel Servián says with some anger. The Lucentine Consistory has already twice refused to load large industrial plots, and prefers to leave those developments in the hands of the companies.

The businessmen lucentinos of the cold and the climate are somewhat surprised by the comparison with the sector of the furniture, that neither in its better moments never arrived to handle the figures of the cluster AFAR, neither in growth nor in invoicing -perhaps yes in the contracting-. It explains it with forcefulness Manuel Servián: “Lucena has not reinvented itself with the cold. That was already here. The sector of the air conditioning has not occupied the niche that left the industry of the wood, because it existed from much before although it is less known -perhaps because it does not manufacture consumer goods-. The only thing with which the companies of the cold have remained has been the seat of the old Technological Center of the Wood, now seat of AFAR. And thank goodness, otherwise that building would have added to the long list of public works victims of the crisis.

https://sevilla.abc.es/andalucia/cordoba/sevi-alta-tecnologia-impulsa-sector-frio-lucena-crecimiento-15-por-ciento-anual-201905190912_noticia.html

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