Manuel Rando (Calamocha, 1958) is, since July 1, 2019, president of the Provincial Council of Teruel (DPT), as well as mayor of the municipality where he came into the world. Before, he worked as a teacher at the Centro Rural Agrupado El Poyo del Cid, and now, at the head of the DPT, he observes the potential of a province that, in his eyes, is a driving force for business, that sells “quality of life” and has a thriving tourism sector.
We are approaching the end of the legislature, what is your assessment?
This has been a year of almost normality. The balance I make of the Diputación de Teruel is based on the objectives I set out on July 1, 2019, when I was appointed president. It was like my electoral program, although in the deputations we are not elected officials. The number one objective was fiber optics, to go out to the world and to be known. And there we have investments in 2019, 2020, with the Broadband Extension Program (PEBA), 2021 and 2022, through European programs. The objective is going to be achieved, 100% of the municipalities and neighborhoods in the province of Teruel are going to have fiber optics. What is happening? Each bidding process takes three years, due to all the administrative procedures involved. We are now at very high percentages.
This year another 5,800,000 euros have been awarded. When these tenders are finished, only 58 municipalities out of the 236 in the province will be missing. Now, with the new plan that has just come out, we will see how far it goes, but we would practically reach 100%. And, for the rest, if there are European funds, obviously we will go to them and, if not, with the DPT, through the Investment Fund of Teruel (FITE).
And, in terms of infrastructure such as roads, what have these almost four years been like?
The second of our proposals was to make an effort to improve the roads in the province. We have multiplied the budget by eight. Much more effort is needed, much more time, but it is an objective for the province to be well structured. And it is, for an important leg, which is tourism, a way of accessing it.
Precisely, what potential does Teruel have as a tourist destination?
We have a dream province, wonderful. When I was in rural school, people used to come crying because they came to Teruel. And then they would leave crying because they didn’t want to leave Teruel, even though their family was in Zaragoza. I thought: ‘there is something going on here’; and of course there is. It is a province with an incredible variety and potential. Dinópolis has already received 3,400,000 tourists. We proposed to squeeze each region and for that we had the environmental heritage, because in the province almost did not enter the industrial revolution, and our historical heritage, which is incredible, but then we had other potentialities that were undiscovered and were not sold well. The gastronomy, its quality-price, the work that has been done for many years by the hotel school, young entrepreneurs, the stays, which are of an incredible quality… We have small hotels, rural houses, each one with its own stamp, and we already have Michelin stars in the hotel business. Therefore, what we have tried to do is to sell all that. Sell our skies, because many people come to see our skies. Also, to the water route, to the mining route… we have a lot of diversity.
We are giving stability to the sector and more and more people are coming from the Basque Country, Andalusians and from abroad, especially French, English, Germans, Italians, from the United States and Mexico.
It has also gained momentum as a filming territory, hasn’t it?
This was not an objective of the Provincial Council, because I was the first one who did not believe it. We started with the Teruel Film Commission and last year 42 productions were filmed in the province. At Fitur we twinned with Mallorca, because they had the sea and we didn’t, and they have an incredible background. And it is another industry we are working with.
One of the main sectors in Aragon is agri-food, how is it observed from the DPT?
Agri-food, for us, is fundamental. We have to support the eight star products of the province, plus the pâté of Santa Eulalia, which produces 32% of the pâté in Spain. We have doubled the allocation for their promotion. And we are spending much more on promotion so that Teruel is known; during the pandemic, within the province, and now what we are interested in is abroad, also at the international level.
We produce the best white ham in the world. In terms of quality-price, we have the best ham. We have an association of cheesemakers, with artisan industries that cannot keep up with the sales. They are incredible cheeses. Teruel veal, saffron, truffle, oil… in Lafayette, in Paris, we have a Rubielos de Mora wine. These things have to be made known.
And, in general, how do you see the economy of Teruel?
We are a business driver. Basically, companies from Teruel have invested a lot. We have leading companies in Spain and in the world, such as Tervalis. There we have the transformation of pig waste, after research with the Center for Agri-Food Research and Technology of Aragon (CITA), which is one of the best in Spain. There is already a company in Utrillas that transforms them into fertilizers, which are much better natural fertilizers than chemical ones. Circular economy is our base and we are working hard on sustainable tourism.
We also want to attract jobs, we have reversed depopulation. In the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the forecast was for a population loss of 15,000 inhabitants and now the forecast is more than 2,000 inhabitants. Not long ago, businessmen were saying that we needed 5,000 jobs; we have zero unemployment in the province. That dark and black Teruel that some people painted, victimizing, is proving to be nothing at all.
And we have something fundamental, we are selling the quality of life of the province, because our planet is as it is and life has to change. A fundamental objective has been to support our municipalities, there have been historic budgets every year in terms of contributions to the municipalities, because it must be said that our towns and municipalities have more and more social welfare.
You know the province and have been a teacher in schools in Teruel, how has it changed?
In the last 40 years there has been a beastly transformation. I think that the biggest transformation of these 40 years in the three Aragonese provinces has taken place in Teruel. Our parents used to tell us to go away to study and live in a better world. In fact, in the Aragonese and Spanish (educational) curriculum we studied the benefits of urban life and not those of rural life. And that has changed.
Joaquín Carbonell used to say that ‘De Teruel is not for everyone’. Now, can anyone live well in the province?
Anyone can come to Teruel, but be careful, we will set a limit (he jokes). We don’t want to lose this lifestyle either. The province, like Huesca and Zaragoza, is very extensive, so, obviously, anyone can come to live. It is a very different lifestyle.
In October, the central government announced aids in Soria, Cuenca and Teruel to promote hiring, are more incentives of this type needed?
The government has done a lot of things right. With the pandemic, the previous crisis and its effects, I did not believe that we are now with a higher level of employment than before. When FITE was launched, it started with 15 million and now we are with 60 million. But not only that, it is that, when investing in Teruel, the European Union grants 5 points more subsidies than in Huesca and Zaragoza. We, in the DPT, pay a part of the quota to the self-employed who are in the towns of less than 500 inhabitants, which are almost all but 19. Now we have a multiservice network that has been copied in Spain and abroad, which we are promoting.
Could it be said that Teruel, in several aspects, is an international reference?
Certainly. In education it is the most innovative province in Spain; it has been and is. It is totally innovative and there is a lot of talent in Teruel.
What does the province need to make itself better known?
It needs, first, to continue working on self-esteem and, second, to promote ourselves. And then, to be innovative, to invest in innovation and research, and to make progress in the objectives we have at the moment. And, above all, to offer quality, because the rest, the good people of our province already provide it.