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One-stop shop for foreign investors

THE SELL job is over. The Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) no longer has to aggressively market Slovakia to potential investors. These days, businesses are contacting the state agency first.

THE SELL job is over. The Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) no longer has to aggressively market Slovakia to potential investors. These days, businesses are contacting the state agency first.

SARIO, a state organization designed to attract and support foreign investment, is essentially a one-stop shop, providing all the possible information a foreign investor might require in order to make an investment decision.

"We provide complex services," Roman Kuruc, CEO of SARIO, told The Slovak Spectator. "These range from the first contact, to promotion of the investment environment to finding the right location. We help with tax questions and legal information. We act as consultants until our clients obtain a construction permit or sign a Memorandum of Understanding." SARIO provides assistance at almost every juncture, only leaving the investor alone when it comes to construction, staff recruitment and actual business operations.

Promotion still needed

Currently, SARIO is working on 300 investment projects. Two or three years ago the agency had a hard time convincing a handful of companies to take a chance on Slovakia.

"Back then we had to use direct marketing tactics. We contacted foreign investors whether or not they showed interest in Central and Eastern Europe. The situation is different now," said Kuruc. He added, "Sometimes we don't have time to follow up on all the inquiries."

SARIO refuses to get too lazy, however. The agency still monitors those countries that are pouring the greatest investments into Slovakia. And projects that offer a higher added value, such as information technology service centres, command priority attention.

"We are in a situation where we do not need to focus on investments in the production and manufacturing sectors," the CEO said.

Despite increasing interest from foreign investors, SARIO considers it important to continue offering workshops, conferences, fairs and exhibitions targeting potential investors. The agency also continues to publish investment-related information.

How does SARIO work?

While no investment project is the same, Ondrej Žember, the spokesman for SARIO, described a general model of the investor-SARIO relationship.

A potential investor lets SARIO know that his company is interested in investing in Central and Eastern Europe. This region includes the Visegrad 4 countries (Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) as well as Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. After promoting the general Slovak investment environment, SARIO enquires as to the potential investor's needs in terms of real estate, construction, infrastructure demands, labour and anything else. The agency then embarks on a promotion campaign that is specific and tailored to the investor's industry and country of origin.

At this point, SARIO targets five to six favourable locations for its client. "Of course, our intention is to attract an investor to regions with the highest unemployment," admitted Žember.

SARIO conducts the location selection process in strong cooperation with regional governments, city and town mayors and councils. Investors take part in negotiations with regional representatives with SARIO present. Afterwards, an investor narrows his choice down to two or three appropriate locations.

When an investor makes a final decision about location, SARIO helps the company obtain a construction permit. The agency also participates in developing and signing Memorandums of Understating.

One-man team

At SARIO, there is a one-to-one ratio between project manager and investment project. The project manager is responsible for cooperating with regional governments and city officials.

"Such cooperation is very important. A local expert knows a location's details. When he can communicate these to the project manager, the process is faster and more effective," Žember said.

The SARIO project manager also organizes legal assistance when necessary.

Improvements en route

SARIO wants to see improvements in legislation that would make it easier for the agency to grant state assistance to potential investors. A proposal is in place that would help the company support higher added value projects and projects in regions where unemployment is a problem. If the Council of Ministers approves the proposal, it will move before the cabinet. According to CEO Kuruc, it would be too early to reveal more details of the proposal.

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