In late 2014, the World Bank’s Competitive Cities team visited the Moroccan city of Tangier, to carry out a case study of how a city in the Middle East & North Africa Region managed to achieve stellar economic growth and create jobs for its rising population, especially given that it is not endowed with oil or natural gas reserves like many others in the region.
In just over a decade, this ancient port city went from dormant to dominant. Between 2005 and 2012, for example, Tangier created new jobs three times as fast as Morocco as a whole (employment growth averaged 2.7% and 0.9% per year, respectively), while also outpacing national GDP growth by about a tenth. Today, the city and its surrounding region of Tanger-Tétouan is a booming commercial gateway and manufacturing hub, with one of Africa’s largest seaports and automotive factories, producing some 400,000 vehicles per year (with Moroccan-made content at approximately 35-40%, and a target to increase that share to 60% in the next few years). The metropolitan area now boasts multiple free trade zones and industrial parks, while also thriving as a tourist destination. As in our previous city case studies, we wanted to know what (and who) drove this transformation, and how exactly it was achieved.
Both geographically and metaphorically, Tangier sits at the crossroads of trade routes and civilizations – on African soil, but just a few miles from Europe’s southern shores. Throughout its history, this exceptional location has attracted merchants, bankers, artists, vacationers, and all manner of adventurers, becoming a cosmopolitan, multilingual place, highly tolerant of diversity.
But the second half of the 20th century was not easy on the city. Closed markets and high trade barriers had relegated Tangier to peripheral status within Morocco’s economy. Some industrial capacity and know-how did develop locally, but with limited reach. Tourists passed through en route to/from Spain, but the city was not a major travel destination in its own right.
With the accession in 1999 of King Mohammed VI, who personally prioritized the development and better integration of northern Morocco, Tangier’s fortunes began to improve dramatically. In the 2000s, the Moroccan government embarked on a massive investment in infrastructure, including the vast new Tanger-Med seaport, modern rail and road links, upgraded airports, as well as a range of market-opening initiatives such as free trade agreements, open skies airline travel, and relaxed investment and visa regimes. Such measures benefitted the whole country, but especially gateway cities such as Tangier.
These national “enabling” interventions were accompanied by highly successful local ones. In consultation with the business community, the city and regional governments embarked on a host of “place-making” initiatives to improve the quality of life for Tangier’s residents and visitors alike, from better water supply and waste management, to the preservation of green spaces, restoration of cultural monuments and beaches, and reduced traffic congestion and pollution through more effective geospatial planning. Meanwhile, the city’s old port of Tanger Ville is being redeveloped, helping to attract cruise ships, the construction of a new marina, and the relocation of fishing vessels and accompanying industries.
Tangier’s renaissance can in part be attributed to its reliance on an innovative public-private delivery model for national and local policies, rather than a more conventional government-only approach. Displaying a nimbleness and flexibility more typically associated with private-sector firms, corporatized entities such as the Tanger-Med Special Agency (TMSA) bring together various stakeholders involved in trade, investment attraction, workforce development, and regional decision-making. Such an approach has contributed to Tangier’s ability to be responsive to the needs of private-sector investors (especially foreign ones), as exemplified by the establishment of cutting-edge facilities to train workers with the skills needed by Tangier’s emerging industries like automotive and aerospace.
Besides this, why has the implementation of a major national initiative been so successful in Tangier? And why have the accompanying local interventions been so effective in stimulating sustainable growth and fostering job creation? Three main reasons stand out. First, Tangier has shrewdly capitalized on its inherent advantages (geographic, cultural, linguistic, industrial) to attract investment and tourists, upgrade local technologies and workforce skills, and help local firms integrate into global supply chains; it has focused on attainable and realistic goals, not merely aspirational ones. Second, within the scope they have, local leaders have demonstrated strong business acumen, and a capacity to act in concert and effectively utilize information feedback loops, ensuring the responsiveness of higher tiers of decision-makers in Morocco. Finally, the city’s manageable size (about a million inhabitants) makes it easier to get things done, as most key players know each other and interact on an almost daily basis. Without the interplay of such factors, Morocco’s massive investment in infrastructure could have amounted to little more than just concrete poured onto a once-pristine Mediterranean beach.
The Tangier case study is the final one in a series of six reports on economically successful cities, one from each world region, produced by the World Bank’s team with funding from the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP), which will be published in late 2015. These reports will provide a more detailed account of exactly what each city did to achieve the success that it has, and how it went about doing so.
“Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth” has been made possible by the contribution of the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP). The overview report and companion papers will be launched in Washington, D.C. in December 2015 – with a number of regional events throughout this year. To learn more about "Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth," follow this link.