The resources of the subsoil are very modest. The salt is the only mineral mined in large measure mainly by deposits Bex (Vaud) and Rheinfelden (Canton of Aargau). For minerals, and in particular for oil, Switzerland is therefore practically entirely taxed from abroad. On the contrary, the water potential is very relevant; along the steps of the valleys, near the waterfalls and the valley widenings, powerful power plants and numerous reservoirs have sprung up (Gruyère, Grimsel) for powering power plants during the winter. According to Businesscarriers, almost 60% of the electricity produced is of water origin. The hydroelectric potential, however, due to high exploitation, is about to become saturated, while the nuclear sector has taken on a growing role (five power plants operate in the country: Mühleberg, Gösgen, Beznau I and II, Leibstadt). The government, opting for the gradual renunciation of nuclear energy, has decided to close all plants by 2025. Despite the disadvantages deriving from the poverty of raw materials, Switzerland is a first-rate industrial country, because it is based on economic foundations. solid financial resources and product quality, guaranteed, among other things, by a highly specialized workforce.
This is especially true for the mechanical industries, electromechanical and electronic. Swiss entrepreneurs focus not on mass production, but on specific and quality products, which require highly skilled labor. Particularly renowned are the precision instruments, such as geodetic devices, graphic machines, optical instruments and watches, which constitute the most typical and famous Swiss production, reconverted in recent years with the launch on the market of low-priced but high-quality products. design. Switzerland always remains unbeatable in quality (the main centers of Swiss watchmaking are Geneva, Neuchâtel and Schaffhausen). Given the abundance of electricity, a significant development has also known electrometallurgy, in particular that of aluminum; this activity is headed by Alusuisse, one of the largest global groups in the sector. The steel industry is more modest, which mainly produces steel, to which are added modest quantities of cast iron and ferroalloys. The textile industry has an ancient plant which, although it is affected by strong and direct competition from various recently industrialized countries, maintains a high degree of productivity. The most important textile sector is the cotton one, flourishing in the cantons of Zurich, Glarus and St. Gallen; the wool mill also has a good diffusion; the silk factory enjoys an ancient reputation, operating above all in the cantons of Zurich and Basel; no less famous are embroidery and lace (St. Gallen, Lauterbrunnen and La Gruyère). Despite being the most recent of the large Swiss industries, the chemical industry has now become widely established on world markets, of which the first and still major center is Basel. The main productions concern dyes for the textile industry and pharmaceutical products (the latter field in which colossal complexes operate, which make use of well-equipped research laboratories), sulfuric acid, ammonia, nitrogen fertilizers, fibers artificial and synthetic, plastics. Some Swiss trusts (Ciba-Geigy, Roche) are world-wide and derive very important sources of income from the sale of patents and the establishment of branches across the border.
The development is no less evident in the food sector, which includes well-known products abroad. Universally known brands of Swiss origin keep only a few plants active in Swiss territory, having many others abroad: in some cases, they are real transnational companies (Nestlé has extended its business to about eighty countries, including Italy); they recorded much higher turnover abroad than those obtained at home, where, moreover, the management bodies and research laboratories remain. The range of food products is very wide: fruit and vegetable canning factories, breweries, pasta factories, sugar factories etc are added to the prevailing dairy and confectionery industries; Tobacco factories also have great importance. The picture of the well-diversified Swiss industry is completed by cement factories, oil refineries that use imported crude oil, rubber factories and paper mills, the latter concentrated in the Jura and the Alpine area, particularly in the Oberland. In addition to the traditional sectors of pharmaceutical chemistry, the food industry and watchmaking, the advanced tertiary sector has developed, which has become the cornerstone of the country’s development. Exporting is a strategic necessity for the country, in order to make the huge investments in research bear fruit, which for such a small population would not be justified. There is also a federal system to promote exports, especially for SMEs. The leading sectors for Swiss exports today are microtechnology, high technology, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, financial instruments, banking and insurance. To support technological research, in 2000 a good 2.7% of GNP, with investments coming from the private sector for approx. the 2/3. In recent years, however, Switzerland has lost positions worldwide in patent registration and productivity is struggling to grow.