The European industrial revolution began in England in the second half of the thirteenth century and reached Italy in the first half of the nineteenth century. In this period, the economic system of the Aosta Valley, in line with the trends of the other similar European mountain communities, is preparing for the progressive detachment from the rural economy based essentially on agricultural autarchy, to develop the trade structure that is basis of the industrialization process.
During this period the Aosta Valley undergoes the separation from Savoy and annexation to Piedmont. These sudden geo-political changes preclude the regional economic system from natural outlets on the markets beyond the Alps, simultaneously opening up to Piedmontese competition. The combined effect of the two actions is the blocking of regional development until the second half of the nineteenth century.
It is the water and morphological connotations of the region that allowed it in 1885 to put the first hydroelectric plant in Italy into operation in Aosta. The spread of the use of electricity as a driving force in industry creates a unique opportunity for the regional industrial sector.
Between 1885 and 1925 a virtuous cycle is triggered which attracts large industry in search of electricity, which builds new hydroelectric plants to increase its energy potential. The first industrial plants, all have as their common denominator, the need for the energy production factor, and are therefore almost all attributable to the sectors: chemical, textile and steel.
Between 1925 and 1937 the Valle d’Aosta industry reached its heyday, managing to participate in the P.I.L. regional for about 70% of the total and employing about 60% of the workforce.
The Second World War crystallizes a highly respected regional industrial situation, favoring some peculiarities that will subsequently constitute its major weaknesses: specialization and vertical production process (everything necessary is produced within the regional ecosystem).
After the war the slow but inevitable phase of recession of the regional industrial system begins. At first the technical conquest of the transport of electricity over large distances penalizes the location of new plants on the regional territory, subsequently the regional raw materials begin to lose convenience in the face of the international opening of the markets, finally local human resources are exhausted on the wave of increasing demands from the industry itself.
The process of downsizing the Valle d’Aosta industry ends in the 1970s with the great international economic crises that saw precisely those industrial sectors present in the region concentrate on a multinational level.
In 1994 the regional industrial scenario is characterized by:
- an employment level of approximately 12,000 employees, mostly employed by structures with fewer than 20 employees;
- the metallurgical pole still occupies an important position;
- the traditional production of electricity remains alive, and contributes about 7% of the national energy needs.