Ain (ɛ̃; Arpitan: En) is a department named after the Ain River on the eastern edge of France. Being part of the region Rhône-Alpes and bordered by the rivers Saône and Rhône, the department of Ain enjoys a privileged geographic situation. It has an excellent transport network (TGV, highways) and benefits from the proximity to the international airports of Lyon and Geneva.
Ain is composed of four geographically different areas (Bresse, Dombes, Bugey and Gex) which – each with its own characteristics – contribute to the diversity and the dynamic economic development of the department. In the Bresse agriculture and agro-industry are dominated by the cultivation of cereals, cattle breeding, milk and cheese production as well as poultry farming. In the Dombes, pisciculture assumes greater importance as does viticulture in the Bugey. The high diversification of the department's industry is accompanied by a strong presence of the plastics sector in and around Oyonnax (so-called "Plastics Valley").
Due to its industrial character and a close-meshed tissue of small and medium enterprises, Ain ranks among the departments with the fastest growing economy in the country. Its unemployment rate lies far beneath the national and regional average. Besides the export-oriented SME’s, several large enterprises with a leading position on national and international markets have settled in the department.
Although looking ahead, Ain attaches nevertheless great importance to its historical and cultural heritage as illustrate its gastronomy (restaurant of Georges Blanc in Vonnas), its annual poultry competitions in the Bresse ("the three glorious") and its tourism (346 classified monuments such as the famous church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse, 14 museums of France, eco-tourism and ski tourism).
It should also be noted that Ain is an uncommon surname that often (if not, usually) suggests a Slavic/Judaic background.
The first inhabitants settled in the territory of today’s Ain about 15000 B.C. The menhir of Simandre-sur-Suran dates from this era.
Under the Merovingians Ain belongs to the Kingdom of Burgundy. In the beginning of the 6th century A.D. the diocese of Belley is created. Important abbeys of the order of Saint Benedict are established in the valleys.
In 843 Ain is assigned to the kingdom of Lothar I by the Treaty of Verdun. The first big fiefdoms („Seigneuries“) emerge between 895 and 900 in Bâgé-la-Ville and Coligny. Numerous castles are erected. In the 12th century the romanic architecture prospers.
In the 11th century the Counts of Savoy and Valromey settle in the region of Belley. In 1272 they receive the Bresse and – by the Treaties of Paris in 1355 – the territories Dauphiné and Gex on the right bank of the Rhône. In the beginning of the 15th century almost the whole region of Ain is united under the banner of Savoy. New monasteries are founded in the cities, churches are constructed or reshaped according to the gothic style of architecture.
In the beginning of the 16th century – the Duchy of Savoy is on the peak of its power – Ain falls as a heritage to Margaret of Habsburg, the widow of Philibert II, Duke of Savoy. In Brou she erects a church and a monastery in late-gothic style. Bourg-en-Bresse becomes a bishop’s see. After Margaret’s death François I, a nephew of the Dukes of Savoy, claims the Duchy for himself and conquers it in 1536. The future department of Ain is now French. However, following a Treaty concluded in 1559 Savoy, including the territory of Ain, is restored to the Duke of Savoy who immediately starts fortifying it. Shortly after, Henry IV conquers the region again, but the citadel of Bourg remains impregnable. The Treaty of Lyon of 17 January 1601 ends finally the conflict. Ain belongs now to Burgundy.
In the 17th century sculpture, painting and literature prosper. During the 18th century streets and small industries emerge. On 28 March 1762 the Count of Eu, son of the Duke of Maine, cedes the region Dombes to Louis XV.
In 1790, during the French Revolution, the departments of Ain and Léman are created. Ain is subdivided into 9 districts, 49 cantons and 501 communes. The Revolution does not claim many victims in the department, but it destroys numerous extraordinary valuable historical monuments. During the first French Consulate (1802) the districts are abolished. The Congress of Vienna dissolves the department of Léman and assigns the arrondissement Gex to the department of Ain.
During the French Revolution and the First Empire a large number of churches were destroyed, but in 1823 the diocese of Belley is refounded. The Curé of Ars becomes famous. During the Second Empire numerous churches are reconstructed, agriculture changes profoundly, and the railway expands.
Due to its distance from the frontline the department is spared the destruction of World War I (1914-1918). However, the majority of the vineyards can no longer be cultivated and disappear. Industrialization of the department starts in Oyonnax and Bellegarde. The barrage of Genissiat is constructed in 1936.
World War II (1939-1945) vehemently strikes the department of Ain and takes its toll: 600 people are deported, half of them do not return. The monument of the Maquis in Cerdon, the memorial of the children of Izieu and the museum of the resistance and deportation in Nantua commemorate this tragic era.
In the second half of the 20th century the industrialization of the department proceeds, favored by a narrow street and railway network.
The river Saone represents the western border of the department. It is fed by three smaller rivers: the Reyssouze (76 km), the Veyle (68 km) and the Chalaronne (52 km). The river Rhône represents the departments border in the east and the south. Its main tributaries are the Seran (50 km) and notably the river Ain (190 km) which is fed itself by 118 small rivers and creeks.
Ain is situated at the crossroads of a large national and international flow of commodities and is therefore an important transit region. More than 4000 km of transport routes serve the department. In addition to a well developed transport network of former national roads, which were transferred to the department in 2007, the Department of Ain is crisscrossed by 220 km of highway.
For national and international flights the international airports of Lyon (Saint-Exupéry) and Geneva (Cointrin) are located within a rather short distance. The department of Ain disposes moreover of two waterways, the rivers Saone and Rhone, on which building material is shipped (gravel etc.). The most important harbour is situated in Jassans-Riottier at the river Saone.
Last but not least the railway network is of great importance, in particular the TGV-connections Paris-Geneva (with a stop in Bellegarde) and Paris-Lyon (passing by the Saone valley). A new TGV-connection through the Haut Bugey is under construction. It will reduce the actual travel time between Paris and Geneva by another 20 minutes. The regional TER (train and bus) network is important mainly as concerns the connection to Lyon.
The average population density is 97 inhabitants/km² (Rhône-Alpes: 136; France: 112). While the Saône valley, the Côtière, Bourg-en-Bresse und the Gex region have a high density of population, only 16 inhabitants/km² live in the mountainous canton Brénod.
Half of the industry’s employees (apart from the public works sector) are working in one of the three branches of the department:
The plastics industry, which is located mainly around the city of Oyonnax, is a highly productive branch of the economy and enjoys an excellent reputation. The "Plastics Valley" comprises 10 % of France’s plastics industry which constitutes the highest concentration of plastics enterprises in Europe. The 349 enterprises which have settled here employ about 11,000 persons, more than a fourth of all employees of the tertiary sector (without public works). In the Oyonnax basin, three of four employments are directly or indirectly depending on the plastics industry.
The agricultural industry, mainly located in the Bresse, counts for more than 5,000 employees. It represents more than a fifth of the employees in the area of Bourg-en-Bresse who work in the meat industry and in tinned food factories. The pillars of the agro-industry are an efficient agriculture providing for a significant number of high quality products as well as the presence of several leading companies of this branch. The emblematic poultry industry in the Bresse employs only 350 persons.
In 1992 the City of Bourg-en-Bresse, the department of Ain and the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce founded the technology platform "Alimentec". Its tasks are, among others, applied research, technical support, technology transfer and the advanced technical education in the agro-industrial sector. The activities of Alimentec focus on three priorities: ventilation systems, plastics packing and applied hygiene.
The industrial tissue of the department of Ain is also a result of its metal processing (cables, wire drawing, electrical wires) and engineering industry (automobile industry, France’s most important site for truck production) as shows the presence of several major companies in this sector (Tréfileurope, Alcatel Cables, Renault Trucks). Foundry, metal processing and electrical industry occupy approximately 8,200 employees. Due to the diversity of the activities of these industries and their dispersion over the whole department, polarisation effects similar to those in the plastics sector have not yet been observed.
Counting more than 12,900 employees, the public works sector represents a significant share of the department’s economy. About a quarter of all industry employees are working in this sector. The future development of the building sector benefits from the department’s economic and demographic growth.
Thanks to its vast forests (more than a third of the department’s surface) the timber industry employed in September 2007 approximately 4,500 workers.
The nuclear industry represents another economic factor. The nuclear power plant in the Bugey produces about 4,2 % of French electricity, employs more than 1,350 workers and secures moreover numerous employments in the enterprises of the supply chain. Every day between 300 and 1,000 external employees are working in the power plant. Its importance for the local economy can not be underestimated.
Ain disposes finally of several industrial parks. Apart from the aforementioned Plastics Valley and numerous smaller business parks which have been founded by local initiatives the large industrial park of the plain of Ain has to be mentioned. With 700 ha this park will certainly become a centre for heavy industries in the region Rhône-Alpes.
The total number of farms in the department amounts to 5,170, including 2,750 full-time farms. During the previous 25 years the number of farms has steadily diminished. While there were 14 600 farms in 1979, only 11,320 were counted in 1988 and 6,320 in 2000. The total farming surface of the department amounts to 268,361 ha, containing 150,917 ha arable farm land and 118,000 plant cultures (range land, viticulture, fruit meadows, tree nurseries). The value of the departments agricultural production reaches 545 million €. 52 % of this amount (274 million €) are allotted to animal products (cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, carpe, milk) and 44 % (240 million €) concern crop (cereals, oil plants, wine, vegetables, flowers).
With a total of 22,973 employees and 9,000 self-employed persons the commercial sector contributes significantly to the overall employment in the department (source: Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Ain, 2006).
More than three thirds of the expenses of the private households amounting to 4,4 billion € per year are feeding the commercial businesses inside the department which stand their ground vis-à-vis external competition.
In economic terms tourism in the department of Ain means 300 million € of business volume and 10,000 direct jobs as well as another 10,000 indirect employments. In December 2006 2,9 % of the department’s employment was related to the tourist sector (source: Committee for Tourism in the Department of Ain, 2006).
In 2006 700,000 tourists visited the sites of interest in the department (museums, castles, religious monuments, gardens and caves). During the winter 2006/2007 winter sports activity was strongly restrained by the lack of snow. The number of daily skiing tourists amounted to 238,000 (180,500 for alpine skiing and 57,000 for cross-country skiing). The previous average amounted to 465,000 daily tourists per winter.
The angling and cycling tourism (27 circuits with altogether more than 1,500 km) attracts numerous visitors each year. The tourist infrastructure is good and divers. The hotel and hospitality sector counts about 1,100 establishments (hotels, camping grounds, bed and breakfast (so-called "gîtes"), holiday apartments, guest rooms etc.). Their joined capacity amounts to 40,850 beds. During the season 2006 2.5 million nights have been passed in the department compared to 2.7 million in 2002 (source: Committee for Tourism in the Department of Ain, 2006). 15,000 hunters are registered in the departments, 3,000 to 4,000 of whom hunt in the Dombes, one of the best hunting regions for water birds in France.
Altogether 700 students are attending courses at Alimentec, the research and technology centre for applied nutritional sciences located in Bourg-en-Bresse (faculties: biology, energy sciences, informatics and biotechnology), or are qualified by the commercial college of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Bourg-en-Bresse. Furthermore, a branch of the Lyon faculty of education is situated in Bourg-en-Bresse providing 450 places for future school teachers.
In Bellignat, in the heart of the Plastics Valley, a polytechnic university was founded in 1992 which is placed under the direct control of the Ministry of youth, education and research. The Ecole Supérieure de Plasturgie provides 140 places for future plastics engineers and disposes of a pluridisciplinary research laboratory which qualifies advanced students (notably Ph.D. students).
The department of Ain consists of 4 arrondissements, 43 cantons and 419 communes.
The biggest cities are Bourg-en-Bresse (40.300 inhabitants), Oyonnax (23.200 inhabitants), Ambérieu-en-Bugey (12.600 inhabitants) and Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (11.400 inhabitants) (estimates INSEE, 2006).
|Pierre Soubelet||Prefect||since August 2006|
|Pierre-Henri Vray||Secretary-General, Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Bourg-en-Bresse||since February 2004|
|Pascal Gauci||Chief of Cabinet and Sub-Prefect||since July 2006|
|René Duchamp||Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Belley||since August 2002|
|Olivier Laurens-Bernard||Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Gex||since September 2007|
|Christian Michalak||Sub-Prefect of the arrondissement Nantua||since December 2006|
|Bourg-en-Bresse||Jean-Michel Bertrand (UMP)|
|Oyonnax||Jacques Gobet (UMP)|
|Ambérieu-en-Bugey||Gilles Piralla (DVD)|
|Bellegarde-sur-Valserine||Régis Petit (UMP)|
|Belley||Jean-Claude Travers (UMP)|
|Gex||Gérard Paoli (UMP)|
|Nantua||Gérard Maille (DVD)|
57 of the department’s 419 mayors (13,6 %) are women as well as 1,894 of the 5,763 members of the department’s municipal councils (32,8 %). 3 out of 17 cities with more than 5,000 inhabitants (Trévoux, Miribel and Saint-Genis-Pouilly) are governed by a mayor belonging to the left-wing political spectrum.
The parliamentarians of the Senate are Jean Pepin (UMP, at the same time first vice-president of the General Council) and Jean-Paul Emin (UMP).