The Agenda: Business | Monocle

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Tall orders


While the security of global shipping routes has preoccupied governments around the world in recent months, the US has also swung its attention to another fixture of its maritime infrastructure: cargo cranes at its ports.

A 2023 newspaper report alleged that US officials were concerned that technology woven into the cranes that lift containers from ship to shore might be harvesting data on the US’s maritime economy. The majority of these contraptions are manufactured in China: Shanghai-based firm zpmc makes 70 to 80 per cent of the world’s cargo cranes. The claims have been refuted but in February the US government announced a $20bn (€18.4bn) investment in its port infrastructure, with a focus on reviving its largely dormant crane-manufacturing sector.

The return of US crane production is set to take shape over the next five years, meaning that domestic manufacturing will do much of the heavy lifting in a sector of the US economy that currently generates $5.4trn (€5trn) every year. 

Monocle comment: There’s a fine balance between security and paranoia. Trade barriers damage as well as protect.

Sound effects

Professional-grade audio equipment has long ceased to be the preserve of radio journalists and sound engineers, and established audio hardware companies are investing heavily in versatile and easy-to-use microphones and recorders.


One of them, Austrian Audio, emerged as a reaction to off-shoring. In 2017, when akg – Austria’s celebrated maker of microphones and headphones – was acquired by South Korean giant Samsung and closed its facilities in Vienna, a group of its engineers stayed behind and set up on their own. “We wanted to create something new but respectful of our heritage,” says Austrian Audio’s Perry Damiri.

Though it caters to entry-level creators, its biggest sellers are expensive microphones used in the world’s best recording studios and concert halls.

Spark and ride

For school students across North America, there is one sound every morning that makes the heart either sink or sing: the trundling arrival of a bright yellow school bus. But a quiet overhaul to one of North America’s most recognisable forms of transport is under way at a new manufacturing plant built and operated by Blue Bird, the firm that debuted the famous buses in the 1920s.


The facility, in the US state of Georgia, opened a year ago to cater to the soaring demand from school districts across the US and Canada for electric buses, rather than diesel. The plant has the capacity to produce almost 5,000 buses a year.

School buses are well-suited to electrification. Fixed routes make them ideal for range-limited EVs and the periods outside the school run give plenty of charging time. They also ensure cleaner air for children, which has encouraged education authorities to start electrifying fleets. By 2032 it’s estimated that almost half of school buses will be electric, which will make the school run less arduous – for the environment, at least.

Creative outlet


When Sonja van der Hagen settled in Ibiza after a career at German furniture firm Dedon, she was excited to discover a rich community of artists, artisans and architects, yet many were struggling to be seen and heard. So her new book, Made in Ibiza: a Journey into the Creative Heart of the White Island, lands like a celebratory lifeline. On an island where superclubs and summer crowds cast shadows, she hopes her compendium of Balearic creativity will inspire more people to buy local. 

How much did your perception of Ibiza change while researching the book?
Everyone knows the “party island” cliché but it was reassuring to discover an almost-invisible creative community and delve into thousands of years of history. But we had to dig for information, highlighting how little these layers are available. More needs to be done to honour the island’s artistic spirit.

How can you encourage island visitors to ‘give back’?
I wanted to connect people to the quality of island products by showing the integrity of the people behind them. I enlisted journalists to get to the heart of their stories, some of which stretch back generations. All contribute to Ibiza’s identity.

What advice do you have for others hoping to find the right publisher for their own book project?
Be ready: have a good concept; make the presentation shine; be prepared to adapt. Most importantly, find a publisher that understands your vision and shares your passion.

Pure shores

Nestled on Tierra Bomba Island, a breezy boat ride away from Cartagena, Blue Apple Beach isn’t your run-of-the-mill retreat. As the first island resort worldwide to earn B Corp status, it’s aiming to be a game-changer in Colombia’s hospitality scene.

Founder Portia Hart (pictured) didn’t set out to save the planet when she opened the doors in 2016. “I just wanted to start a company that sold rosé on the beach with good music and nice food,” she tells monocle.  Originally from the UK, Hart followed the sun to the south of France where she worked for almost a decade before finding her way to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. “I wanted to live somewhere where there was a sense of optimism.”


Hart, whose mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, immediately felt a sense of belonging. “Everybody looked like they could be my cousin. For once it wasn’t hard to buy makeup or to find a hairdresser,” she says. “The country was coming out of a dark time and everyone was enthusiastic and starting businesses with no money.”

Today, Blue Apple Beach has 11 bedrooms and the hotel is a love letter to Hart’s years in the Côte d’Azur, with its beach club, Mediterranean-Caribbean fusion restaurant and a DJ who spins European and Latin house tunes.

Hart has three other ventures, including a non-profit focused on job creation through waste management and glass recycling. At the heart of it all is a commitment to creating vibrant businesses that play a role in the neighbourhood. “A huge part of being a sustainable business is the human side,” she says. “It can be something that improves the quality of life in the community.” — L

For more inspiring business stories, tune in to ‘The Entrepreneurs’ at

Back on tracht

The biannual Fesch traditional costume trade fair is held in Salzburg and attracts about 200 brands and 1,500 shop buyers – all of which are focused on what is now a growing market for long-established Alpine and Tracht dress (think lederhosen, dirndls and some seriously good hats).

What started as a village uniform that was sported by 16th-century peasants across Bavaria, Austria and South Tyrol has been elevated to a focus of fashion shows, premium shops and bespoke fittings. It’s also an industry that to this day supports a world of impeccable craftsmanship and a network of family-owned ateliers.

And as the ceremonial costume has ceased to be a symbol of political affiliation, today’s Trachten have found function as an urban alter-ego. “On the streets of Munich, it’s not unusual to see Bavarian jackets on dress-down Fridays,” says Sebastian Haufellner, head of buying at longstanding Bavarian department store Lodenfrey. It’s all a joyful way of holding on to a sense of identity.

Marcel Pachteu-Petz, owner of menswear label Trachten Kaiser
Handmade straw hats by Bittner, a hatmaker based in Bad Ischl
Cowhide lederhosen by Salzburg-based label Bergheimer
Hungarian dirndl maker Kinga Mathe designed Trachten for Hugo Boss

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