Beja is a historic hilltop city located in the Alentejo region in southern Portugal. Its municipality has a population of around 36,000, with 22,000 people living in the city itself. The Alentejo covers about a third of Portugal but it is the poorest and least populated in the country. The population has declined as many people have left to seek work elsewhere and the birth rate is low. Like much of Portugal, it has been badly affected by the economic crisis since 2008.
Known as the ‘bread basket’ of Portugal, the region’s agriculture is a mainstay of the economy, producing wheat, wines and olives. Tourism also has potential for growth. Beja has a long history and many cultural attractions including a 13th-century castle and a number of museums. But access is an issue in this under-populated region. The military airport of Beja, 9km away, has been converted and was opened for civilian flights in 2011. However it has not been able to attract Europe’s low-cost airlines and stands largely unused. A highway was also under construction to link Beja to the deepwater port of Sines some 60km away.
Beja is seeking to reinvent itself as a ‘service city’, increasingly oriented towards the knowledge and sustainability economy. The city’s strategy is to develop sustainable mobility, including electric mobility, and to establish a cluster of technology and knowledge based services to accelerate economic growth and job creation. High-tech services have been identified as a critical factor in unlocking the region’s economic growth potential.