"If you look at The Netherlands you will see that about 85% of the corporate sector is made up of SMEs - they are the powerhouse of any economy. They should not be ignored at the expense of big companies. The government should not just pay attention to large firms."
Henk Soeters, Dutch Ambassador to Slovakia, believes that the Slovak government has to stay aware of the importance to overall economic health of brownfield investment into small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Government policy on investment has often been seen to be geared towards larger firms and greenfield, rather than brownfield, investment.
However, a November 16 investment conference in The Hague - Inwest Forum - is expected to show that investment into already-established Slovak firms remains a government priority, and as organisers of the investment forum have made clear, the conference will have a purpose beyond just persuading potential investors that they have to come to Slovakia.
By guaranteeing Dutch and Slovak companies one-on-one meetings, the government is taking a backseat to businesses at the conference, according to B+ Business, Slovak organisers of the event.
"This is all about starting direct cooperation between [Slovak and Dutch] companies," said Slavomír Danko, project manager at B+ Business. "This company match-making was missed in some of the earlier conferences that we had."
The scheduled meetings between the companies, Danko explained, will give firms looking for investors a chance to meet and dicuss business and firms who are seeking to go into joint ventures or merely supply partnerships on each other's markets, an initial point of contact.
"We hope to gain an awful lot - new contacts, a chance to talk about opportunities for Dutch firms here and the benefits of investing in our firm," said Miroslav Šulek, director of east Slovak machine engineering company Strojárne Chemes Humenné.
He added that the conference would provide an opportunity for Strojárne to open up business opportunities on the Dutch market, "build mutual cooperation and get an overview of the development direction of Strojárne's industry in Holland".
Dutch firms already established in Slovakia, such as brewing giant Heineken, will be at The Hague to give advice to others contemplating a leap into Slovakia - something B+'s Danko said would provide insight for investors.
"These Dutch firms can give advice on the business environment here, what it's like to work in Slovakia and how things function here. It's a huge help for us because it is essentially firms themselves giving their own PR for Slovakia, not just us," he said.
"We want to focus on brownfield investment as well as greenfields," said Roman Minarovič, general director of government investment agency SARIO. "The best investor, to my mind, is one who comes to Slovakia and takes over existing facilities in, say, the east of the country, where unemployment is higher.
"But of course, if someone comes to us and says they want to open a new plant just outside Bratislava then we really aren't going to say no. We are not solely focused on greenfield investment, it's just that many of our investors are. They want to come here and build new plants," he continued.
Minarovič added that the conference held a dual level of significance.
"This forum is very important in two ways: the meeting of some Slovak ministers with their Dutch counterparts and the face-to-face meetings of Slovak and Dutch companies, which I think should be a great help to our firms. The Netherlands is also one of the biggest foreign investors, we should not forget that."
Strojárne Chemes's Šulek said that the government presence at The Hague conference would also show that Slovak business was not asleep to investment opportunities.
"[Having] the government there gives this forum a weight of importance. It [the government] can get an insight for itself on [Slovak and Dutch] firms and make a decision on attracting]investment.
"The West doesn't have to fear that businesses here don't have anything mapped or monitored [through the government] and that people are inexperienced and the environment is not suitable for investment," he said.
Inwest Forum will, those close to the conference say, confirm something many foreign investors have widely admitted; government investment agency SARIO is working harder than ever to secure all forms of investment into Slovakia.
"The impression really is that SARIO is taking a very professional approach to investment matters. There is now much more of a commercial dialogue and understanding between them and [domestic and foreign] companies,' said Ambassador Soeters.
13. Nov 2000 at 0:00 | Ed Holt