PREŠOV: THE US government has given $500,000 to four different Slovak cities to develop and implement a strategic plan for local economic development.
In the eastern Slovak city of Prešov on January 16, US Ambassador to Slovakia, Ronald Weiser, signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor, Juraj Kopčák, marking the final deal. Trnava, Šaľa and Humenné have also been granted funds, all to be provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Each city will create a Strategic Development Committee constituting of 30 to 35 public and private sector leaders. The committee will work with the local mayor to create an action plan aimed at identifying economic weaknesses and strengths and stimulating growth. The ultimate goal is to attract investment and create new jobs.
"How many new jobs will be created can only be answered over a period of years as the various projects and plans are implemented. Our best estimate is many, many," said Norton Berman, President of the Berman Group consulting firm which has worked with USAID on similar projects in Europe.
Bonnie Walter, senior advisor for USAID, said the programme had already proven effective in other central and eastern European countries, like the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Croatia. "And we are considering programmes in Serbia and Macedonia," she said.
Mayor Kopčák said he was pleased with the grant and promised that local citizens would enthusiastically carry out the programmes. "This is a positive continuation of co-operation between Slovakia and the US," he said.
Ambassador Weiser said he believed the programme would help attract foreign investment to the east, where high unemployment rates plus the impoverished and segregated Roma populations hinder local economies.
"Important investments should be made all over the country, including the Roma settlements. There must be training programmes to make the Roma an attractive part of investing in an area. The solution to more jobs is education and training," he said.
Weiser added, however, that investors would come only if the country was deemed stable.
"New investors look for security and stability. Investors, especially from the US, will be interested to see if you are invited to join Nato. This will give your entire country credibility to attract more investment," he said.
"You saw this to be true in the experiences of your Visegrad-4 partners [Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic], which attracted investors after Nato entry. Nato entry will also help Slovakia in European Union accession."
While some western politicians and diplomats have expressed concern over Slovakia's Nato entry hopes were former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to return to power, Weiser said the economic development funding would not be affected.
"Most of the money will be spent this year before the election anyway, but it is not conditioned on the new leadership of Slovakia," he said.
21. Jan 2002 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri