Languedoc has experienced several cycles of economic prosperity and recession. These cycles reflect the impact of war, disease and innovation. Many of todays enterprises reflect the economic history of the region.
Ancient times :
In Greek and Roman times the coastal colonies of Languedoc produced olives, wine and salt. The foothills to the North produced sheep and goats.
Middle ages :
After the decline of the Roman empire, Languedoc was occupied by a series of invaders. Following the crusades against the moors, the church became the military and economic power in the region.
In the middle ages, there was rapid economic development.
Montpellier became a seat of learning, particularly in the study of plants for medicinal purposes.
Production of salt, olives and wine expanded.
Animal production for food evolved with the establishment of leather and wool industries.
The Cevennes, particularly near Ales, became an important source of minerals. Coal mines were established as early as 1100 AD and there was considerable mining of copper, tin, bauxite, iron ore and latterly, uranium.
Production of charcoal caused the deforestation resulting in the garrigue of today.
Fishing developed, both in the sea and rivers.
16th century :
The 16th and 17th centuries were a prosperous era for the region.
Silk production enabled the expansion of the textile industry. The region was the main supplier of silk gloves and stockings in France.
The Canal du Midi provided a communication link with Bordeaux and the Atlantic ocean.
The growth of international trade allowed cotton to be used by the textile industry. Denim (de Nimes) was reputedly invented in Nimes.
19th century :
The 19th century provided rail links to important markets in Paris.
The arrival of phylloxera virtually wiped out wine production, and the region slid into recession.
Better transport systems made small scale mineral extraction uneconomic and the Cevennes mining industry declined. Coal production finally ceased in the 1980's. Uranium mining continued until the end of the cold war resulted in a reduction of demand and price.
The silk industry declined because of disease. From 1850 onwards production was only a fraction of that in the boom years. The final blow to the industry was delivered by cheap imports and, by the 1950's, the advent of nylon.
After replanting with disease resistant stock, the wine industry recovered production, but met with competition from production in the North African colonies. Global over production of wine has continued to marginalise small producers.
20th century :
The 20th century has seen a number of initiatives and developments designed to improve the economy of the region.
The existing Montpellier seat of learning has expanded . The university now has 80,000 students and this has attracted significant numbers of research facilities. Centre National Research Scientifique has a major centre in Languedoc responsible for 250 local research laboratories. Private companies have also established facilities, particularly in the fields of biology, agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
The region has encouraged the establishment of IT company centres. IBM, Dell and Palm all have significant operations in Languedoc. There are also very many smaller IT operations both involved with hardware production and software development.
The arrival of the Bas Rhone irrigation canal allowed the creation of a successful fruit and market garden industry.
Smaller wine producers have been able to create quality wines. The marketing of these wines abroad has been difficult. There are further plans to develop the Languedoc wine brand.
Tourism is an important regional source of employment. Increasingly, low cost airlines are making the area more attractive to international visitors. Allied to this, there is a growing leisure marine industry.
It's geographical position has allowed Languedoc to share in the increased international distribution of goods. Development of ports, roads, rail and air continue to make Languedoc more attractive as a base for international companies.
Production of shellfish has been established in several of the coastal lagoons. Ocean fishing has expanded, as have inland fish farms.
The predictably clear weather patterns have resulted in the Languedoc becoming an important international location for commercial flight crew training. The Montpellier operation (ESMA), who also have courses in aircraft maintenance, has recently been sold to a Hong Kong based company. The HK connection will provide openings to the expanding Chinese aircraft industry.