Business in Florence

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The small-scale craftsmanship that gave rise to Florence’s dramatic flowering of genius continues to flourish in the city’s narrow back streets. Handmade leather shoes and bags, exquisite marbled stationery and terracotta ornaments are just some of the goods imported around the world. Sales of wine and olive oil have boomed outside the Mediterranean since the 1970s, turning the ubiquitous olive juice into liquid gold. Tuscany’s produce is widely considered to be the best and is snapped up all over the world. Chianti, too, has reinvented itself, throwing off the kitsch straw-covered flasks in favour of sleek square-shouldered bottles with serious attitude.

From its early days in wool and banking to the goldsmiths and fashion designers of today, Florence has grown fat on its mercantile enterprise. Families like the Antinori (wine) and the Strozzi (banking) continue to flourish in the city alongside international business. But it is the year-round tourist industry that has contributed most heavily to the city’s bulging coffers. The tourism industry is growing – by 4.46% in 2000 – and over half the city is employed, directly or indirectly, by the tourism sector. Aside from the staffing of museums, tourist offices, restaurants and hotels, Florence also leads the way in restoration, creating techniques that are adopted the world over.

Despite the noise and traffic pollution, the quality of life in the city is excellent with unemployment figures at 6.2%, about half the national average of 12.5%. Florence has one of the highest standards of living in Italy – 1996 registered the highest level of individual bank deposits in the country.

The three main venues for business events and conventions in Florence – the Fortezza da Basso, Palazzo dei Congressi and Palazzo Affarri. The latter two, along with the most part of the city’s commercial activity, takes place in the city centre, close to the railway station and all the major attractions.

Business Etiquette
It is important for one to distinguish between an Italian’s laid-back attitude to life and their more formal approach to business. While Florentines are immensely proud of their city and will enjoy showing off its best restaurants and finest wines, a certain degree of formality should be maintained for business matters. Appointments for meetings should be made in advance and punctuality is respected. Business cards are commonly exchanged by way of introduction. Smart dress is appropriate, as is a high degree of respect – Italian associates should always be addressed as Lei (the polite form of tu), unless otherwise indicated. Although many executives will speak English, it is advisable to conduct business in Italian if possible – Italians always appreciate a visitor who tries to speak their language, however poorly.

It is common for the entertaining of clients to take place over lunch with wine offered. Evening entertainment again would be in a restaurant, or to the theatre (opera is very popular). While it is less common for an invitation to a business colleague’s home, a gift of wine, chocolate or flowers for the host’s wife/husband would be appropriate. Normal business hours are Monday-Friday 0900-1700, although much of the city closes for August.

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Getting to Florence

Situated in the northwest of Italy, surrounded by the wine-growing hills of Chianti, the city attracts rapture and frustration in equal proportions.

When's best to visit Florence?

It is best for visitors to avoid the peak summer months of July and August, when the weather can be unbearably sticky and the prospect of trailing around museums becomes unappealing. Early autumn, when the countryside glows with mellow fruitfulness, is the best time to visit, avoiding the heat and the queues and capitalising on the soft light, empty streets and the abundance of wild mushrooms and just-pressed olive oil.