Spanish jobs crisis spawns entrepreneurs

MOTHER OF INVENTION::Spain is seeing a revival in the number of self-employed entrepreneurs, who were just about the only sector to create new jobs last year

AFP, VALLADOLID, Spain

Tue, Feb 12, 2013 - Page 6

Two years after being laid off from her job as a health and safety consultant, Ana Luis has found a new, quite different occupation.

The blue-eyed, blonde-haired 46-year-old stands busy in the window of her very own dress shop in Valladolid, northeastern Spain, deftly fixing clothes on a dummy.

For Ana, it was a childhood dream come true — one born of the nightmare of redundancy. Left jobless like millions of others in Spain’s recession, she did what many are also doing, for want of an alternative: she launched her own business.

“I had a choice: stay sitting at home and do nothing, or throw myself into a project that I like,” she said.

She opened the store less than four months ago using part of her redundancy pay and savings — a total investment of 30,000 euros (US$40,000).

She is one of a wave of Spaniards trying to create jobs for themselves in the recession that has driven the unemployment rate above 26 percent.

The crisis sparked by the collapse of Spain’s building boom had wiped out a lot of self-employed entrepreneurs: 625,000 between 2008 and 2011, said Lorenzo Amor, president of the small entrepreneurs’ association ATA.

Last year, however, as the unemployment rate climbed to record highs, their number grew for the first time in the five-year crisis, with 53,000 new registered self-employed, he said, citing government figures.

These entrepreneurs created 72,000 jobs, he added — just about the only sector to do generate any.

“For the next few months it is going to be easier to create your own job than to find one,” Amor said. “In Spain, every hour 67 people register as self-employed. Unfortunately, half of those don’t manage to keep their business running for more than three years.”

Despite everything, they are having a go.

In a trendy district of central Madrid, serving staff bustle at the coffee machine in “La Bicicleta,” a novel bicycle-friendly cafe where cyclists can park their bikes. Its tables are crammed with customers even though the cafe only opened days ago, under the management of Tamara Marques, 29, and Quique Arias, 35.

“I had other job plans. I wanted to be an air traffic controller, but the labor market is nothing like it was,” Tamara said. “The way the economy is, I prefer to invest in something I really like and which will bear fruit, rather than wait for the government to do something for me.”

She and Quique launched their plan in late 2011 and managed to open their cafe, with its rough industrial-style decor and deliberately shabby armchairs, more than a year later.

They raised the 100,000 euros they needed through a rare bank loan and help from their families — no thanks, they say, to Spanish bureaucracy.

“We’re not even talking about getting subsidies or making it easier to get a loan,” Quique said. “We’re talking about much simpler things, like just getting the paperwork done.”

Among its various emergency reforms, the conservative government said it is working on a law to cut the red tape for people launching their own businesses.

Ana, Tamara and Quique say they are covering their costs, but relying on their families to live.

Yet theirs are rare tales of hope in a crisis that aid groups say has thrown millions into poverty.

“I think there is a growing dynamism. We are seeing just the tip of the iceberg,” said Javier Sanz, director of an MBA program at Madrid’s Complutense University. “In the next five years people are going to realise more and more that to find the perfect job they are going to have to make one up. For that you need to be an entrepreneur.”