We have still a lot to do for economy
Interview with Marek Michalik, President of Lodz SEZ Board and Agnieszka Sygitowicz, Vicepresident of Lodz SEZ Board
It has been 20 years since the foundation of Lodz Special Economic Zone. What impact has it had on the economy of the region?
M.M: - I have been observing the development and activity of Lodz Special Economic Zone since its inception. As Deputy Mayor of Lodz, I have frequently participated in various events marking the granting of permits for conducting operations within the Zone. I remember the opening of the Gillette and Dell factories as well as the Fujitsu service centre and other key projects, which I consider milestones for the Zone and, hence, the entire economy.
A.S.: When working in Radomsko in local government I observed the impact of Zone-related investments on the most significant synthetic and qualitative ratios. Today, the largest subzone of Lodz Special Economic Zone is located in Radomsko. It is full of investments from many branches of industry, including logistics, packaging materials, and household appliances. Unemployment has dropped by more than 15% and industry is diversified. Large, medium-sized and small companies have all developed. Sixteen companies in the Radomsko subzone employ4, 000 employees.
Local government has benefited as well - property tax revenues from the areas utilised by the investors have increased to PLN 7 million annually.
M.M: MM: The numbers speak for themselves - during the 20 years of operations of Lodz Special Economic Zone, more than 300 permits for conducting business have been issued and public aid has been granted to 200 companies, which has led to the creation of 36,000 jobs and PLN 15 billion of investment expenditures. If Lodz Special Economic Zone was treated as one company, it would be the biggest employer in the region. It is also worth noting that the Zone is not only for large foreign companies. Capital from outside Poland dominated in the beginning, but presently we are recording equal levels between small and medium-sized companies and corporations with domestic and foreign capital.
Special economic zones will operate until 2026. Does this mean that we will not be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Zone in Lodz?
M.M: I am convinced that the zones will continue operating, but they will most definitely be given new tasks and will operate based on new rules and principles. Discussions are under way, but we know that Poland as a whole is supposed to be a special economic zone, and Lodz Special Economic Zone, similar to other special economic zones, will issue decisions regarding support, rather than permits. We are also aware of our significant role in supporting start-up projects, industrial training and the dual education system.
Speaking of supporting start-ups, what is the current status of the Startup Spark project conducted by Lodz Special Economic Zone and what is the future of this project?
A.S: As part of the Startup Spark project, we offer acceleration, not incubation. New technological companies will develop specific products and specific services designed for specific customers. They will provide them to corporate partners, i.e.: Albea, P&G, Wielton, PGE and Radio Łódź.
M.M:The biggest challenge is searching for new areas of business. We are building a bridge between the new technological companies and large corporations - and not only those which operate within our Zone. This is the most significant start-up project in our region. With this project, I would like to build a community of start-ups which we will help to grow.
The presence of qualified and enthusiastic personnel is one of the challenges for the functioning and development of the industry, not only within the Zone. Does Lodz Special Economic Zone have a plan of how to respond to this demand?
M.M: Today, when a new investor appears in the Zone, his main concern is to ensure that he has appropriate staff. He does not have to worry about the land and premises. We strongly encourage investors and industry schools to communicate with one another and create joint educational programmes. If an investor knows what kind of employees he needs and if he actively participates in the process of shaping the educational programme, then at the end of the education process, he will be able to hire the employees he needs who meet his requirements. Frequently, a good technician or a well-prepared specialist in charge of operating complex machine tools is more needed on the labour market than a specialist in management or marketing. The Ministry of National Education has noticed this problem; vocational skills need to be promoted more intensely. This year, Lodz Special Economic Zone has started working to create a Competence Centre in cooperation with the partners who are already present on the market. This is an important project for us.
Which new companies are „targets” of the Management Board of the Zone? What companies and which sectors are you most interested in?
M.M: We want to acquire a large investor from the automotive industry and another one specialising in business process outsourcing (BPO). We are also counting on the constant development of projects from the household appliances sector. Innovative technologies, highly advanced production, and specialised workplaces are most important now.
What else does the Zone have to offer to its investors?
M.M: Besides public aid for the investment areas, we are adding a production and warehousing facility as well as office space to our portfolio. The production hall is going to be erected on premises belonging to Lodz Special Economic Zone. These amenities are designed for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs who will not need to build their own buildings, and will be given an opportunity to make use of public funding
Ideally situated office buildings will also be built in Lodz, within the area included in the Zone, at the crossroads of Piłsudskiego and Śmigłego-Rydza, and at Ogrodowa street.
A.S: We are also working on a new platform which will enable sharing experience and establishing business contacts, e.g. a business mixer during which entrepreneurs hold quick conversations, present themselves, their products and their capabilities. Manufacturers get the chance to meet service providers, companies specialising in research and development, and modern technologies. I consider this form of business matchmaking as something extremely vital for the establishment of contacts and achieving success. We work in partnership with the International Forum of Home Appliance Manufacturers and Suppliers, which brings together each year about 200 enterprises, both domestic and overseas, as well as developers and general contractors interested in constructing production and warehousing facilities.
M.M:The British International School of the University of Lodz is extremely valuable to investors. Without classes for children in English, conducted by the School at various stages of education, some investments would not be even possible. Foreign investors who are intending to move with their families to Poland always ask about a school for their children.
What are the strategic directions for the development of the Lodz Special Economic Zone?
M.M:China remains one of the main directions of our interest. We are planning to develop the Polish and Chinese Technology Park in Lodz and the opportunities to provide support for Chinese investments in the region. Furthermore, the traditional directions of our activity include Asia, India, partners from the European Union, and the USA.