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WORKING IN SPAIN

20 business ideas that can work in rural Spain

Rural Spain has a big problem with underpopulation and a lack of services. But it is in many ways a blank canvas, "a land of opportunities". Here are 20 business ideas that could help both you and your new rural community.

20 business ideas that can work in rural Spain
Marketing rural produce could be a great business idea in Spain. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

España vaciada or ‘Empty Spain’ refers to huge rural areas in the country’s interior that have suffered severe depopulation over the past decades.

Provinces and regions such as Soria, Teruel, Cuenca and parts of Extremadura are the most affected in Spain and are among the least populated areas in Europe. It is estimated that 3,403 municipalities in Spain are at serious risk of depopulation.

A life in the Spanish countryside can be blissful, especially for those who wish to get away from Spain’s busy and noisy cities, but the matter of work is one of the main drawbacks for many people considering the move, especially those of working age.

At Spain’s 4th Congress on Depopulation and Demographic Challenges in the city of Albacete in 2023, there was talk of action rather than victimisation, with calls for ‘Empty Spain’ to be referred to as ‘The Spain of Opportunities’ instead. 

READ ALSO: How ‘Empty Spain’ is now a political party

In that vein, rural Spain offers far cheaper property and rental prices, an impressive and growing network of villages with fast internet, a lack of competition and the welcoming attitude of locals who want new arrivals to breathe life into their waning municipalities.

So if you’re considering what kind of businesses you could set up in rural Spain, here are 20 ideas to get you started.

Door-to-door errands
Many businesses and physical shops have been closing down in rural Spain, opening the way for door-to-door services from larger towns. This could be for anything from gardening to furniture delivery to clothes shopping.

Service aggregator
Good online services are few and far between in rural Spain, so one good option could be to gather together lists of local plumbers, painters, electricians, etc and present them in one place so that people only have to go to one website to find what they need.

READ ALSO: The Spanish regions where the population has declined the most

Mobile beauty services
Often those in rural villages might have to travel a long way to get their hair done or have any beauty treatments such as waxing or manicures, so there’s a lot of scope for someone willing to provide mobile services door-to-door.

Specialised training centres
Training centres are severely lacking in rural communities in Spain and often people have to travel several hours to a large city if they want to undertake some type of course. An online training centre with face-to-face support and assistance could be a great idea.

Food delivery services
We take companies like Glovo and Just Eat for granted in big cities, but in the countryside, these are often just not available. One good business idea could be a food delivery service with its own kitchen to supply rural areas.

Private minibuses
Public transport can be spotty and unreliable in underpopulated areas (or even non-existent), so a minibus service offering set routes for people to be able to go shopping or visit nearby towns could be a profitable venture.

Co-living spaces
Co-living spaces have become all the rage in places popular with digital nomads – basically large houses where people can live together and enjoy a range of services. It could be ideal in places where they aren’t many options available to rent.

READ ALSO: How to find Spanish villages that are helping people to move there

Co-working spaces
With Spain’s Startups Law approved and the digital nomad visa now available, there may be an increase in remote workers who want to experience rural Spain. They will, however, need services like a good internet connection and office spaces, so co-working spaces will be in demand. 

Online communication services
In areas with a good internet connection, it’s possible to create online communication businesses such as podcasts, online newspapers or newsletters to connect communities.

Ecotourism companies
Of course, rural or eco-tourism companies are a no-brainer, especially if you are located close to natural and national parks or areas of stunning natural beauty. It could feature activities such as bird watching, hiking excursions or even photography tours.

Business services
If you are good at what you do, you could help other local businesses by providing marketing services, legal advice or digital services, so that they can thrive too.

Artisanal/Farmer’s markets
Creating places so that locals can sell their local produce could be another great idea in rural communities, especially if people can find them all in one spot. 

Reclaim lost trades
Basket makers, knife sharpeners and blacksmiths are just some of the professions which are scarce these days, but in rural areas, there may still be a need for them, plus many of the places where you can do them such as old mills etc. still exist. 

Local gourmet produce
There is more and more demand for local kilometre 0 produce, which you could market and turn into a gourmet product for nearby towns. 

Workshops or factories producing natural products
One advantage that the countryside has is that the land to build an industrial plant is much cheaper and, in addition, you have better access to raw materials too.

Restoration of towns and villages
With more than 3,000 abandoned towns in Spain, there are a whole array of profitable ideas that they could become, from language camps for foreigners to tourist attractions or hotel villages.

Gym and wellness services
One of the big problems in rural Spain is that people are so spread out and often don’t get the chance for certain services like in cities. Why not start yoga or Zumba classes and travel around to different areas so that people can partake in these activities?

Digital intermediation
More and more services are going online, but in rural areas people may not be used to this yet and still hold on to old practices. By acting as an intermediary, your business could help people through the digital transformation process.

Recovery and care of the environment
Recovering old olive trees to mill for oil or planting new crops could be a business idea that will help both the rural communities and the environment.

Basic services
Don’t forget that basic services are also needed in rural villages such as bakeries, hairdressers, bars, mobile repair shops, pharmacies and local stores, and these can be of great benefit to the local communities too.

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WORKING IN SPAIN

Spain’s Aragón is Europe’s new cloud storage oasis (but not everyone is happy about it)

The world's biggest technology firms are investing billions in cloud storage facilities in the northeastern Spanish region of Aragón, drawn to its abundance of renewable energy sources. Some critics fear its environmental impact.

Spain's Aragón is Europe's new cloud storage oasis (but not everyone is happy about it)

While local authorities hope to reap the economic benefits of the ever-growing data demands of the artificial intelligence (AI) boom, environmentalists have criticised the vast quantities of water and power that data storage consumes.

Until recently, Aragón “was not on the map of global connectivity. But today everyone knows where it is,” said Manuel Giménez, executive director of an association grouping 170 data centre firms.

At the end of May, Amazon said it was investing €15.7 billion ($17 billion) in the region through its AWS cloud computing division to expand its three existing data centres in Aragón, set up since 2022.

In early July, Microsoft said it was investing €2.2 billion in a huge data centre project, raising its total investment in the region to 6.7 billion euros.

And Spanish media reports said Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, would soon follow suit.

These investments are part of a strategy by big tech companies to ramp up their storage capacities to meet the incessant demand for generative artificial intelligence, which has significant data requirements.

‘Europe’s Virginia’

“This is a great opportunity and we must make the most of it,” said María del Mar Vaquero, the Aragón region’s deputy leader.

She believes that Aragón’s success in the field is due to plenty of cheaply available land and good links to Spain’s economic centres in Madrid, Barcelona and the northern Basque Country.

READ ALSO: Why are the Basque Country and Catalonia so rich compared to the rest of Spain?

This is complemented by the vast array of solar and wind farms dotted across its sunny but sparsely populated territory.

For Amazon, the fact that all its power needs can be met “with 100 percent renewable sources” helps its sustainability goals, it said, while pointing to the “institutional confidence” offered by the Aragonese authorities.

The regional government has created a dedicated department so that “red tape will not be an obstacle for these types of projects” and will establish “legal security” for companies, Vaquero said.

The aim is to convert the region into a “European Virginia”, she added, referring to the eastern US state that has established itself as a global data centre hub.

Aragón is a generally dry region that’s prone to drought, although in the past year there has been enough rainfall to lower the risk. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Environmental impact

However, the spread of data centres in the region also has detractors.

Ecologists say such installations are very costly in terms of electricity to run the equipment and water to cool them down.

While “it’s difficult to have exact figures, we do know that consumption levels are huge”, said activist Aurora Gómez, warning of the risks of “uncontrolled” development.

Gómez is part of a protest platform called “Tu nube seca mi río” – “Your cloud is drying up my river” – flagging the environmental impact of data centres.

“Spain is going to be one of the worst-hit countries in terms of climate change and desertification. We have to be very careful,” she said.

Other critics cast doubt on the economic benefits of these centres, which Giménez’s data centre association rejects.

“The positive impact of the data centre industry on GDP and employment is obvious,” Giménez said, calling it “even larger than that of the aeronautical industry”.

With fierce competition for investment between Spain’s 17 regions, the Aragonese government has launched a huge 42-hectare (104-acre) technology park project on the outskirts of Zaragoza.

Although it has the sector heavyweights in mind, it is also designed to meet the needs of start-ups and public research institutions.

“In Aragón, the leading sectors have traditionally been the agrifood business, logistics and the automotive industry,” said Vaquero.

But with investment pouring in, her vision is an Aragón where technology becomes “a motor for economic transformation”.

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