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Human resource companies wait for the privatization endgame

"Business is good," said Ján Necpal, head of the human resource company Neumann, as he smiled from across his wood desk in his top-floor office overlooking Bratislava's SNP square. But, almost in the same breath he added, "There is not that large a pool of customers in the Slovak market." The list of international service companies, such as human resource firms, in the capital is long. But they are not all here for the now. They are here for the future. The waiting game, the belief that investment in Slovakia will rise - has to - is the rallying cry of almost every international human resource firm in Bratislava.

"Business is good," said Ján Necpal, head of the human resource company Neumann, as he smiled from across his wood desk in his top-floor office overlooking Bratislava's SNP square. But, almost in the same breath he added, "There is not that large a pool of customers in the Slovak market."

The list of international service companies, such as human resource firms, in the capital is long. But they are not all here for the now. They are here for the future. The waiting game, the belief that investment in Slovakia will rise - has to - is the rallying cry of almost every international human resource firm in Bratislava.

Investment will bring more business to these companies that have staked their claim early. "All that has to happen is for privatization to be finished," said Necpal. "It is then that the scenario will play out for investment to come into Slovakia."

To be sure, investment has not poured in compared to the other Visegrád countries. In 1995, Hungary had 19 times more foreign direct investment than Slovakia, while the Czech Republic and Poland had 14 times more. The Slovak method of privatization is seen by many as the primary obstacle to foreign investment now, but that doesn't exclude it from picking up in the future.

The Slovak government prefers to privatize through direct sales to Slovak businesses. "Of the 376 direct sales in 1995, only five were decided to the benefit of a foreign investor," pointed out Ivan Mikloš of the economic think-tank M.E.S.A. 10. What these Slovak entrepreneurs do with their new companies will affect the future nature of foreign investment.

This class of entrepreneurs will either succeed, go bankrupt or look for investors or even new owners. "This development will follow in the next 5 - 10 years," predicted Necpal. "If it does, the only entities with enough capital to invest or buy these enterprises will be foreign investors."

The golden apples of Slovak industry - metallurgy and chemicals - may be gobbled up by capital-rich foreign companies. "And these new foreign companies will have the need for professional managers," Necpal said, again allowing himself to smile.

They will also need consulting on the Slovak market. They will need the know-how of foreign companies that have been in Slovakia for a long time. It is then that business will be truly good.

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