GIBRALTAR has well and truly shaken off its image as a 1960s-style Britain in the Sun to take its place as Europe’s shiny new hub for global e-commerce and finance.
Gone is the grey military look of old, replaced by smart glass and chrome office skyscrapers, while even its famous Barbary macaques have been given their marching orders out of town and back to nature at the top of the Rock, where they belong.
Its strong financial services and internet gaming sectors in particular are beacons of hope for the future of the British Territory as it rides choppier political waters stirred up by Britain’s impending EU referendum.
They are among the boom industries continuing to open up new employment opportunities for locals and expats, not to mention hundreds of skilled Spanish workers, who also commute in every day.
Such is the growth of the economy over the last few years – up to 10% per annum – that the GDP per capita (50,941 pounds) makes the Gibraltarians the third highest in the world.
The small economy is booming and, as First Minister Fabian Picardo has stated on various occasions, with cooperation from the nearby Campo de Gibraltar, tens of thousands more jobs could be created over the next few years.
The variety of businesses has diversified hugely over the last two decades, with legal, accountancy, insurance, telecommunications and betting firms all now jostling for position.
A new World Trade Center Gibraltar, which is now nearing completion, will boast 15,158m2 of super-premium office space over seven stories.
This spectacular building, located between the airport and Ocean Village, is set to become the the geographic and economic centre of Gibraltar’s business community.
Meanwhile, big retail firms such as Marks and Spencer, BHS and the Early Learning Centre continue to thrive, while new chain stores, such as Pandora, Swarovski and Cadenza, open every few months.
As well as the arrival of leading international firms, including Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton and PwC, recent years have also seen a swathe of young home-grown entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses.
Take Alex Capurro, founder of Easy Payment Gateway. Launched a year ago, EPG offers a ‘very simple one-stop solution for making internet payments’, he says.
Users have access to over 200 worldwide payment solutions, banks and credit card processes at the lowest price in the industry.
Today the business employs 20 staff, having raised £2 million pounds in investment and received three buy-out offers from leading companies in the financial payments industry.
Elsewhere, go-getters like Justin Bautista, the creator of Mama Lotties cookbook, and the team behind new food delivery app, Hungry Monkey, are further proof of Gibraltarian entrepreneurship.
The territory’s population may only hover around 30,000, but it has always punched above its weight thanks to its citizens’ passionate sense of identity.
And as the Rock grows and evolves in terms of economic savvy, so does its people.
Gibraltar University, inaugurated last September at Europa Point, is a shining example.
Degree courses are available in Accounting and finance, Banking and finance and Business and management. It’s clear what the priorities are at this early stage.
Of course, a huge chunk of Gibraltar’s economy (over 25%) is still tourism-based.
And with border delays shorter and less frequent than they were a couple of years ago, tourists are finding it increasingly easier to pop over from Spain for the day or even a long weekend.
In addition, the Rock is a major cruise destination.
The numbers of ships making Gibraltar a port of call this year is set to leap by 11%, with more than 232 stops scheduled.
And passengers are not short on places to splash the cash once they arrive. Ocean Village with its bars and restaurants, lively Casemates Square and bustling Main Street are favourite haunts for VAT-free cruise souvenirs.
Meanwhile, the selfies every visitor shares on social media from emblematic locations like St Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle are all free publicity, ensuring Gibraltar a permanent and prominent place on the global tourism map.