The employment hopes of the north-east Slovak town of Bardejov were lifted April 4 after Labour Minister Peter Magvaši announced that two foreign firms were expected to invest close by, creating 1,500 new jobs.
An unnamed Czech glass producer and a multinational shoe firm based in Austria are currently negotiating with the government on separate projects which will bring 400 million Slovak crowns into the town. According to the minister, a memorandum of understanding on the Austria-based firm's investment is due to be signed at the end of April.
With Bardejov's jobless rate hovering around 30%, the investments will be a massive boost to the community. The new hope has come after the local government and the Phare-funded Agency for Industrial Development and Revitalisation (AIDR) together promoted the town as an investment destination. The team used the production halls of Bardejov's once prosperous, but now bankrupt, shoe-maker JAS Bardejov as the fulcrum for their efforts to attract investors.
"The great advantage which Bardejov had as an investment location [over other potential sites] was that the infrastructure for investors was already here," said Karol Balog, head of the AIDR. He explained that the production halls and the facilities of the former 5,000-strong JAS Bardejov plant workforce could now be used by the investors, cutting out the potential hassles of having to build up infrastructure themselves.
"The old shoe manufacturing plant itself was huge - just one of the production halls alone is 10,000 square metres. And of course, there is already skilled labour here from JAS," Balog added.
Minister Magvaši explained that the arrival of the Czech glass firm would involve the sale of a part of the production facilities of JAS. The use of the firm's production site also limits potential problems with property and land ownership - a thorny issue for many would-be investors - with the owners involved having already been identified.
"They [the investors] are expecting a quick sale of the property through bankruptcy proceedings," Magvaši said, adding that "unsettled property matters are often an obstacle for investors. Many of them prefer to build on green field [newly-created] sites than to have to deal with such things."
The positive news of the two investments, though, was tempered by the government's admission April 4 that infrastructure construction at a new automotive green-field industrial park near the village of Lozorno, north-west of Bratislava, had run into delays.
While it was originally planned for completion in June this year, the road and rail connections to the park - widely seen as one of the flagship industrial zones to attract vital FDI to Slovakia, and expected to provide 4000 jobs over the next 18 months - have been held up by four months and one year respectively.
Changed requirements for the railway connection between the park and the national railway network has added an extra 2 kilometres to the link, forcing the 12 month delay, while the transformation of the State Fund for Road Management to become part of the Ministry of Transport as of July 1 has held up completion of the road connection.
The government had hoped to cover the costs of the links and other infrastructure under its new bill on industrial parks. However, the bill has yet to be passed in parliament, and at its last session the government was forced to approve new legislation to allow the release of funds for the park under the Law on State Assistance.
A total of 195 million crowns ($3.9 million) will be provided for the railway link, and a further 60 million crowns for a drainage canal at the park.
The park will house production of a new Volkswagen model, expanding the operations of the successful VW Slovakia concern.