Leonardo DiCaprio's sun diamond plan to revive a town in 'empty Spain'
A few cranes and a chunk of empty land have generated unprecedented excitement in Trujillo, a small town in western Spain.
Nothing will be finished until 2024, but local residents have already been showing up just watch the construction workers.
Many simply can't believe new developments are happening here at all, in Extremadura, the heart of so-called 'empty Spain'.
“How many things have we been promised during the past years that have not been fulfilled?" asks José Antonio Redondo, the mayor of Trujillo.
"It has created a lot of excitement and will revitalise the town," he tells Euronews.
What today is still a construction site will soon be the home of a synthetic diamond factory run by Diamond Foundry.
The North American company, which has Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor and advisor, has brought hope back to this town located in what is known as 'empty Spain' due to rapid depopulation in recent decades.
Despite being known as "the most beautiful town" in the region of Cáceres, Trujillo is increasingly seeing more "up for rent" signs on its balconies and empty premises.
In the 1950s, this municipality had more than 14,000 inhabitants. However, over the years its population has been in decline and now the number is below 9,000, according to Spain’s National Institute of Statistics.
"It is impossible to maintain the population in these areas only exploiting the hotel industry and the agricultural sector," says Redondo.
Creating "sun diamonds"
The sun and the quality of local stone were enough for the North American company to invest in Trujillo.
The idea is to produce synthetic diamonds for different uses: some for jewellery and also for industrial use.
These stones can be used to produce diamond crystal chips with semiconductor properties used to manufacture mobile phones and car batteries.
Its production is 100% hydroelectric, and while a diamond deposit takes thousands of years to be able to extract real diamonds, synthetic ones can be produced in a week using solar energy.
During the negotiations, other countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates were considered instead of the Spanish village.
Two reasons helped Dicaprio's company make up their mind: the reasonable price of renewable energy and the certainty that Spain is a stable market.
"People are very happy"
When operating at full capacity the factory will generate up to 1,000 jobs, a lifeline for a village of 9,000 inhabitants.
At the moment, the unemployment rate is "a little above average", exceeding 10%, according to its mayor.
"We all think it's great that the factory is being built. There are fewer and fewer people left in Trujillo each year and the options for young people are either working in catering or construction, so they are forced to leave town," Isidro, from Trujillo, told Euronews.
For María Esther, owner of a clothing store in the village, the prospects are good. "People are very happy, waiting for the factory to be ready and to see what happens," she says.
The initial investment is €245 million, of which €120 million have been awarded to Diamond Foundry by the Productive Industrial Investment Support Fund, part of the Spanish Ministry of Industry, to encourage regional projects.
Diamond Foundry says it is committed to investing €670 million in the Trujillo project.
Fighting against depopulation
The negotiations to get the factory built in Trujillo were tough.
It has been more than two years since the first contact between regional authorities and the North American company took place.
"The negotiations have been exhausting, we had to overcome huge obstacles. We always felt the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, we were afraid that the project could collapse at any moment," says the mayor of Trujillo.
Now that they managed to secure the deal and the construction is taking place, the town is looking forward to the economic activity it will generate.
"It's a great opportunity. All the satellite companies that will be created due to the factory needs will be able to provide jobs for university graduates. We have already spoken with the university in our region so that those who finish their studies can come here," says the mayor.
The idea that Leonardo Dicaprio is behind the project also generates tourist interest. People in town are wondering if the actor will visit the factory at some point.
Dicaprio, a committeed environmentalist, got involved in the project after filming the movie 'Blood Diamond', where one of the main characters is enslaved to work in the diamond fields.
Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1999, the film shows a country torn apart by war. Rebel forces use the diamonds to fund their war effort.
Since working on the movie, the actor invested in Diamond Foundry and became involved in growing diamonds in a sustainable way.