A week ago I returned from my business trip to the Polish town of Katowice.
In the 1990ies the most of Poles called this town an ass of the world, advising to avoid it during transit and to travel through Wroclaw.
It was a sort of Polish Luhansk. Only 15 years ago the operating mine was located in the center of the town.
I cannot say it looks now like shining Las Vegas. After all, the Americans were constructing in the desert, and if they reconstruct, everything is wrecked completely.
I saw in Katowice the same Soviet buildings (however, warmed ones) and residues of spoil heaps drawing my attention; restaurants and cafes were rather unobtrusive.
However, today no mines represent the economic face of Katowice; it is the airport with annual traffic of 2.8 mln. passengers, known to every Ukrainian traveling by low-cost airlines. It is Congress Center and Exhibition Center for 30 thousand visitors and 300 events per year.
But the most important thing is a special economic zone which attracted 5.6 bln. dollars of investments and created 60 thousand jobs. Only 350 thousand people live in Katowice, but even the citizens of Krakow, with twice as big a population, go to work to Katowice.
Local citizens are simple workers, without any aplomb of Warsaw, with the respect for working people, those offering the intelligent solutions. They do not “show off”; everything is made solidly and competently, in the miner’s way. They do their best, ask about impressions, and try to be proud.
In 1990, strong competition between regions existed. Investment institutions were set up in 20 provinces. Figuratively speaking, the government exempts the economic zone/ industrial part from profit tax, while the other “features” are to be offered by the region itself (i.e. infrastructure, health care, personnel training).
At equal opportunities, Katowice with Lodz, Wroclaw and Pomorski province managed to create the most favorable conditions and obtained 50% of investments.
The Poland covered its territory with the network of institutions with special regimes, and in 2013 the report under telling title “Poland – a true special economic zone” has been issued. That is, now the whole country is really a special economic zone.
The town is known by its unique philharmonic hall with powerful acoustics. People come here from all regions of Poland and Europe. Shows are sold out for every performance – it is a remarkable feature for small, by our standards, town similar to Kamianske (ex-Dniprodzerzhynsk).
One would think: does the mining city really need the philharmonic hall? The answer is simple.
It is impossible to infinitely create jobs, build the infrastructure and airports. The airport serves almost 3 mln. passengers, this index can be brought to 5 million, but it is not a goal in itself. Now the government is fighting for people moving to live in Katowice, and tourists staying for two nights or more.
The tactical objective is that the town should not be seen as a transit one. To accomplish this objective, the Philharmonic Hall was opened, and old town is now being restored. The strategic objective is to change the perception of the town completely.
What is the main lesson of Katowice to be adopted? At some point of time, they were locked in very poor condition and acknowledged their status-quo: it is a backward, unattractive territory, and we should do something with it. Special economic zone was chosen as an appropriate tool, and all efforts were directed thereto. It has worked.
In fact, SEZ is not a panacea. These zones allowed attracting just over 10% of all investments, but they represent a real and effective tool.
The main thing is: by the Polish example, I understood that neither resources, nor money rule the world. People are the main capital asset. A few people in the world are interested in iron or raw materials – there is instead a struggle for human resources. Nothing will happen without them.
Even on condition of baby boom, these resources will appear in 30 years, but investors cannot wait for so long time. Therefore, they think how to move people from other territories or countries. The Poles do not conceal that they count on 500 thousand people of potential outflow of emigrants from Ukraine (estimated as 2 mln. people).
Mostly, they look for Ukrainians. Regions of Poland attract Ukrainians using training programs, employment schemes, scholarships. For example, free apartments are provided to programmers in Gdansk. Many regional initiatives involve emigrants not from the Middle East, but from Slavic countries.
Slovakia acts in a similar manner. At proper time it attracted investors who have built a bunch of car assembly plants. Now they lack the work force. In my opinion, former Minister of Finance of Slovakia Ivan Mikloš, actually, works with a view to promote workers in moving from Ukraine to places, including without limitation Slovakia.
It is a sad joke, but who says it is a joke?