City Focus: Porto

Marcus Lawrence
- Leadership - Feb 06, 2020

Business Chief takes a look at Porto, an ascendant economic powerhouse complete with Portugal’s greatest qualities

The historic Atlantic city of Porto traces its roots back to the 5th Century BC, with its Celtic founders having been succeeded by the Romans some 200 years later. So named for its role as a key port during the Roman occupation, Porto is home to the outlet of the Douro, an 897km-long river whose source resides in northern-central Spain. Since its origins in ancient times, Porto has become Portugal’s second-largest city, its centre is a UNESCO Heritage Site and, along with Lisbon, it is one of the country’s two global cities as designated by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network

World Population Review estimates that Porto’s 2020 population sits at 1,312,947, with around 93% of residents being Portuguese nationals. As a growing European tourism hotspot with a solid economic outlook and thriving business, that figure is set to steadily grow over the coming decades at a rate of 0.2-0.35%. 


While port, the city’s eponymous fortified wine, remains its most famous and favoured export, the past century’s industrial growth in Porto and the surrounding region has established it as one of the country’s key business hubs. The corporate landscape in and around the city is diverse and thriving, with giants from myriad industries basing their global operations in the region.

  • Portuguese Commercial Bank

Portugal’s preeminent banking institution, Portuguese Commercial Bank (PCB), is headquartered in Porto and was founded in 1985. At the close of 2018, PCB (which operates largely under its Millennium brand) served 2.3mn Portuguese customers and had 546 branches across the country. According to Forbes, the company’s market cap reached US$4.2bn in May 2019, and it boasted 15,794 employees worldwide at the time. 

As a major Portuguese investor, PCB takes pride in its approach to sustainable financing. Having signed the Letter of Commitment to Sustainable Financing in Portugal as part of its wider sustainability strategy, it has committed to investment in opportunities which promote and develop solutions that will facilitate the realisation of Portuguese carbon neutrality by 2050. 

  • Altri

Another major player based in Porto is industrial conglomerate Altri, a firm focused primarily on eucalyptus pulp production, strategic forest management and renewable energy generation. Founded in 2005, the firm posted revenues of €612mn in 2016 through its 692 employees. The group’s primary eucalyptus pulping arm, Celbi, produces over 770,000 tonnes of pulp annually, while its Celtejo factory produces over 200,000 tonnes of bleached pulp each year. 

The firm’s integrated forestry programme enables sustainable operations from a wood sourcing perspective, as well as providing an avenue for self-sustained renewable energy production. Residual biomass and the energy potential of lignins (core polymers found in plant cell walls) both offer means of producing energy. Burning lignin-rich residue leftover from the pulping process produces steam which in turn drives a generator. Tree waste from the pulping process is burned in biomass boilers to similarly produce steam and spin a generator. Altri says the energy produced by these methods is sent directly to the grid, cutting into the share of coal-based electricity found in Portugal’s energy network. 

  • Mota-Engil

Basing its operations in the Norte Region of which Porto is the capital, Mota-Engil is a group focused primarily on construction, port operations, water and waste management, and logistics. In 2019, the group reported an annual turnover for FY18 of €2.8bn. This sum was predominantly generated through operations in Europe, Africa and Latin America, with a presence in 28 countries across those markets. 

Considered to be a rising star on the global construction stage, Mota-Engil was named at #71 on Deloitte’s Top 100 Global Powers of Construction list in 2018, as well as being named an Empresa Socialmente Responsable (Socially Responsible Company) by the Mexican Center for Philanthropy. Its impressive performance looks set to continue, with Mota-Engil announcing in December 2019 that it had secured fresh contracts worth a total of €450mn for construction projects in Mexico, Honduras and Angola.



It comes as no surprise that one of Europe’s oldest cities is replete with historic sites, museums and iconic landmarks waiting to be delved. Currently in the midst of a tourism boom, the city has become particularly tourist friendly; Porto boasts a low crime rate, particularly for a major city, friendly locals and a high frequency of English speakers. 

In terms of things to do, the aforementioned port industry thrives not only on the quality of its wine but also on tourists’ appetite for vineyard tours, river cruises along the Douro (itself bordered by typically verdant and quaint vineyards) and wine tasting afternoons. Another tranquil way to spend a few hours is the Lello Bookstore, an architectural marvel built in 1906 by engineer Xavier Esteves that has since become renowned as one of the world’s finest book shops. 

Towering over much of the city is the Romanesque cathedral with its staggeringly beautiful stonework bordering intricate blue and white tile images, a highly recommended visit to its ornate Gothic cloister, and remarkable views over the city, river and coastline.

Traditional Fado performances are considered an essential cultural touchstone, and the city has no shortage of daily shows. The melancholic and passionately delivered genre is best experienced in smaller venues where the consuming acoustics can have their full effect. Such soul-enriching experiences emblematise the serenity, beauty and zest of Porto at large.

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