LONDON - Taking their case right to the heart of the British capital, in one of London's highest buildings called The Centre Point, Slovak government and industry representatives on March 21 attempted to awe British investors with the business opportunities to be found in Slovakia during the first ever Slovak presentation in the United Kingdom.
"Slovakia Opens Up" was how organisers coined the presentation, which attracted more than 40 British companies. Though far better than two conferences held last year in Paris and Brussels, which attracted scant attention, the London pitch perked the interest of British businessmen, but left them wanting more specific project proposals from the Slovak side.
Still, members of the Slovak delegation declared themselves satisfed. Keynote speaker Ivan Mikloš, Deputy Prime Minister for Economy, and other government officials including representatives of the National Agency for Support of Foreign Investments (SNAZIR) and the managers of some major Slovak companies said the conference had achieved its aim of breaking the ice with British companies.
The British side, represented by the current and former British Ambassadors to Slovakia, British businessmen and export promoters, said that the conference was useful for those who had no knowledge of Slovakia's economy.
Initial presentations were characterised as well done but a bit general, lacking the spark that would really dazzle an investor. "Why do they present figures and statistics that don't tell businessmen much?" asked David Barry, advisor to the Mayor's Office in Banská Bystrica, while drinking a coffee during the first break. "They should present more concrete projects. Otherwise they [the government] won't grab their [British businessmen's] attention."
Barry was supported by Philip Kaye, senior manager of PKF, an international advisory, accounting and consulting firm. "I was impressed by the overall quality of the conference and especially by the presentation of Deputy Prime Minister Mikloš, but at the same time I was a bit disappointed because I also wanted to hear more of the future vision from the Slovak government officials," said Kaye.
However, David Lyscom, British Ambassador to Slovakia, believed that presentations like this one in London helped to raise Slovakia's visibility among the movers and shakers of British industry. "This presentation is here to raise awareness about Slovakia among British businessmen," he said. "More detailed presentations will only follow."
Mikloš was also satisfied with the way conference was run, saying that it offered some concrete proposals and suggestions for further discussions. "Businessmen had a chance to learn more about concrete cases and proposals during the afternoon round table discussions," he said. "However, I say that this is only the first stage. We have to establish contacts, maintain and broaden them to be able to sign a contract."
Slovakia has fallen far behind in foreign investment, amassing Ł1.22 billion ($1.97 billion) since its formation in 1993 compared to neighbours such as the Czech Republic (Ł8.6 billion total foreign investment), Hungary (Ł12.4 billion) and Poland (Ł22.5 billion). While these countries have become common destinations for British businessmen, Slovakia has remained something of an undiscovered country, with many British investors still considering Slovakia a part of Czechoslovakia. Questions that British businessmen raised during the open floor discussion showed that they didn't know much about Slovakia.
Lack of interest in Slovakia from the British side was also evident in the fact that there are currently about 50 British companies interested in investing in the Czech Republic, but only three (two of them automotive companies) interested in doing business in Slovakia.
According to Colin Rosser, a British export promoter for central Europe, since the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were still leading the show in the Visegrad Four region, Slovakia had to do more presentations like the one in London to catch up. "Slovakia should promote its interests abroad more aggressively," said Rosser. "British companies are starting to be more interested in Slovakia than before. So Slovakia should take the opportunity to attract them."
From the total Ł1.22 invested into Slovakia, Ł114.7 million (Ł109.29 million manufacturing and Ł5.47 million financial sector) had been invested by British investors, the most significant of which is Tesco House Chestnut, with annual turnover of Ł87 million in Slovakia.
27. Mar 2000 at 0:00 | Peter Barecz