The rapid influx of foreign direct investment in industry and related service sectors has helped provide new revenues for local businesses in the Tangiers-Tétouan region. This is particularly true in terms of employment. After decades of emigration, the Tangiers area is now a magnet for both low- and high-skilled workers nationwide. However, the presence of a number of foreign investors in the region’s free zones, which exempt companies from foreign currency restrictions and Customs duties, can limit the capture of value by local firms.

LOCAL BUSINESSES: The arrival of large-scale manufacturers such as Sumitomo, Renault or Lear has helped to support a vast network of primarily foreign small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the industrial zone. One of the main challenges for local authorities today is to ensure a transfer of knowledge and capital to local businesses, particularly for firms that supply and provide support services to the industry and offshoring sectors. According to the Tangiers-Tétouan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, between 90% and 95% of local businesses are SMEs. No specific measures are in place to require local purchasing or the hire of local contractors. However, the overall rise in economic activity has helped to support local firms.

The Tangiers Regional Investment Centre (Centre Régional d’Investissement, CRI), which aids investors looking to start a new business or launch a project, reported that the number of demands for new projects registered at the Tangiers CRI increased by roughly 20% year-on-year from 450 in 2012 to nearly 540 in 2013. This figure is not comprehensive, as the CRI is just one of several avenues to register a demand for new business creation, but it is nonetheless a useful indicator of the overall uptick in economic activity.

As in the rest of the country, the informal economy continues to play a strong role in the region. Given its proximity to Europe and international trade routes, informal businesses and the sale of contraband goods, mainly imports from Spain, are particularly common in the northern region. It will be difficult to change this in the short term, but it is hoped the uptick in economic activity will help to provide more opportunities for firms to transition to the formal sector.

SEEKING APPLICANTS: Development of the industrial sector has also helped to expand the labour market in the Tangiers-Tétouan region, which has changed gears in the past decade to become a major draw for both low-skilled and highly qualified workers. And yet, the availability of trained human resources continues to be a concern for the industrial sector today. Affordable wages are one of the factors that first drew companies to establish plants in Morocco decades ago.

Since 2000, employment in the Tangiers Free Zone complex has grown to more than 50,000, helping to generate opportunities across the board, and particularly for low-skilled workers. Activity in the construction and services industries related to this growth has created yet more opportunities. According to local employers, Tangiers now acts as a magnet for labour, drawing in workers from around the country.

The launch of Renault’s plant in 2012 created a strong demand for workers with highly technical backgrounds, and salaries for highly skilled employees rose along with the uptick in competition. The market has since stabilised, but Morocco’s professional training system, particularly in the Tangiers-Tétouan region, is still working to meet current demand for engineers, advanced technicians and business managers.

Many companies in the Tangiers Free Zone offer their own short-term training programmes, with formations between three and six months, in order to train labourers. In the offshoring sector, the establishment of a 500-student professional training centre in partnership with Cisco and Microsoft will help to supply companies in the zone with a sufficient base of qualified professionals. For higher-skilled employees in other industries, technical and professional training schools in the northern region are beginning to orient their programmes towards the region’s economic demands, but it will take time to fill the gaps locally.