ZARAGOZA, Spain – Few places in Europe have prospered in recent years like this bustling crossroads city of 700,000, halfway between Barcelona and Madrid.
Factory employees here pulled overtime shifts. Companies hired temporary workers to satisfy growing consumer demand. A half dozen new bridges were built across the Ebro river, and office buildings were filled as fast as they could be erected.
The capital of Spain’s fastest-growing region, inland Zaragoza kept booming even as the overbuilt Mediterranean coast came to symbolize how real estate excess was not just an American ailment.
But just as the cold autumn wind is blowing down from the Pyrenees, Zaragoza and the surrounding region of Aragón have suddenly been hit by a sharp economic downturn. And the troubles here make clear that what had been seen as a crisis confined largely to finance and real estate is quickly spreading to more fundamental sectors of the European economy.
For the generation of young Spaniards who have known only good economic times the chill is shocking.
“Maybe older people are not surprised, but this is totally new for me,” said Francisco Braulio, 31, who works for Valeo Termico, a parts makers that supplies the General Motors plant here, the automaker’s largest factory in Europe.
He and his wife, recently married, have put off talk of having children for now and to save money they are eating meals and watching movies at home rather than going out.
Zaragoza’s fate reflects the pattern now unfolding across Spain and the rest of Europe. The European Commission reports that the 15-nation euro zone appeared to have entered a recession in the third quarter.
In Madrid, the government has announced an economic stimulus program after it was reported that Spain’s gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent in summer, the nation’s first quarterly economic contraction in 15 years.
“It’s come very suddenly,” said José Mendizábal, chief executive of Pikolin, Spain’s biggest mattress maker and one of the largest private employers in this area. “People are frightened of spending money.”
Pikolin has already eliminated temporary positions, bringing its work force down to 1,200 from 1,400. The slowdown has only intensified in recent weeks, with sales now off 15 percent from a year earlier, and more job cuts are likely if sales do not improve.
The pain did not hit home in Zaragoza until General Motors announced just a few weeks ago that it planned to lay off 600 of its 7,000 workers for up to a year and that it would suspend production for at least two weeks.
General Motors first came to Zaragoza 26 years ago, drawn by its historic location as a crossroads between Spanish cities, as well as Toulouse in France. The automaker’s arrival was the beginning of something of an economic miracle for this region, which had traditional depended on agriculture, and it spurred the opening of other manufacturing plants.
The area received another economic boost four years ago when Zaragoza was chosen to host the 2008 International Exposition. With roughly 1 billion euros provided by the Spanish government and other sources to build sprawling pavilions, new parks and a glistening new bridge designed by Zaha Hadid, the future looked bright.
“People in their 20s and early 30s have never known anything but prosperity,” said Amado Franco, president of Aragón’s biggest savings bank, Ibercaja.
At 62, Mr. Franco has watched Zaragoza, along with the rest of Spain, transformed by prosperity. “People have changed,” he said. “In my generation, we said, ‘One city, one wife, one company.’ My children’s generation is quite different.”
Aragón was “a very hard land, with very hard people,” he said. But in recent years, he said people even “borrowed to go on holiday. That’s American.”
Alberto Larraz, Aragón’s economic minister, said he expected the local jobless rate to rise from its current 6.2 percent to near 8 percent by the end of the year, with no improvement in 2009.
Roque Gistau, the president of the 2008 Expo, now finds himself trying to fill the 170,000 square meters of office space constructed for the exhibition. “In the last three months, sales have come to a complete standstill,” he said.
While younger workers like Mr. Braulio say they are pessimistic about the future, older Spaniards like Mr. Gistau say they remain hopeful. Citing an old Spanish proverb, Mr. Gistau said, “There is no evil that lasts for 100 years.”
Video: EU economic outlook looks grim http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid959009704/bclid1026280058/bctid2478944001
2008-11-18/聯合報/G5版/UNITED DAILY NEWS 樂慧生 原文請見11月18日紐時周報七版上