It wasn't until 1992 that the rest of the world learned just how vibrant Barcelona and the surrounding region are. In that year the Summer Olympics were beamed across the world from Catalonia's chief city. And in the breaks from sporting contests, viewers were treated to glimpses of the dynamic culture of Spain's second city and foremost industrial region. Kept firmly under the Falangist boot for nearly 40 years, Barcelona has burst forth into full bloom in the quarter century since Francisco Franco's death. It has become a fashion mecca rivaling Milan or Paris, while luring visitors from around the world intent on seeing the museum named after Picasso and the city that nurtured him as a young artist. But Barcelona is also the industrial engine that has helped Spain keep one of Europe's most dynamic economies running at full tilt. The autonomous region of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, accounts for more than a quarter of the nation's GDP. Barcelona and Catalonia boast a strong industrial tradition, with textiles, paints, chemicals, and plastics the historic strengths, but the region also serves as host to large automotive assembly plants for Nissan and Seat-VW. The latter's 13-year-old plant in suburban Barcelona has seen its workforce swell to nearly 12,000 workers who produce cars that have become an increasingly popular choice throughout Europe. Barcelona built its industrial might on its centuries-old status as one of Europe's most important ports, a status it maintains today, with container traffic hitting record levels in recent years. Madrid might be the political and financial capital of Spain, but Barcelona holds sway as its most culturally and industrially vibrant city. Not only has Barcelona led Spain in the amount of foreign direct investment it receives (nearly a quarter of the total) but it also has won acclaim as one of Europe's most highly regarded business locations. A 1998 survey of over 500 top European executives found Barcelona the sixth most popular choice; last year, the Catalonian capital vaulted to the top spot. While Barcelona plays host to large companies such as Seat SA and Roca Radiadores SA -- the latter the world's second-largest manufacturer of bathroom fittings -- its economy also is based on the success of growing companies, some of which have gotten their start thanks to a public-private partnership called Barcelona Activa. The venture capital firm, which provides funding to small companies and operates a business incubator in a once-decaying industrial park in northern Barcelona, is funded by the city government and 15 private institutions. Barcelona Activa is an example of the cooperation between the local government and business that helped the city stage the Olympics in 1992, and it's not likely to be the last.