THANKS to large investments in the Žilina Region by foreign companies such as the Korean carmaker, KIA, unemployment in the region is gradually falling. However, mountainous Banská Bystrica Region, which is the biggest in Slovakia and suffers from an underdeveloped road network, still has a long way to go to tackle one of the highest unemployment rates in Slovakia.
In 2006, unemployment in the Banská Bystrica Region stood at 21.1 percent: the highest among Slovakia's eight regions. In the Žilina Region it was 11.8 percent, which made it the fourth-highest in the rankings, according to the Statistics Bureau of the Slovak Republic.
The Žilina Region contributes 10.6 percent of Slovakia's gross domestic product (GDP); Banská Bystrica's share stands at 8.8 percent.
"From the point of view of investors and businesses, Považie region [in north-west Žilina Region] is considered an attractive location," Peter Mihók, the chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce, told The Slovak Spectator. "The Banská Bystrica Region has only started to develop but it definitely has a future."
Mihók considers central Slovakia's main strengths to be its industrial tradition and its pool of qualified labour, while patchy infrastructure is its main drawback.
The Žilina Region is located in the north of the country, and borders the Czech Republic and Poland. Banská Bystrica is located in the south of central Slovakia, with Hungary its only foreign neighbour. The D1 highway, which is intended to link Bratislava and Košice, in eastern Slovakia, will cross the Žilina Region; some stretches of the highway have already been built. However, it will not include the Banská Bystrica Region.
Mihók said that regional disparities between the northern and southern parts of central Slovakia are firstly a legacy of the past, and secondly are caused by this infrastructure gap.
As for the future, he sees potential for the further development of central Slovakia mainly in machinery, the wood processing industry and tourism.
As of December 2006, the Banská Bystrica Region attracted 2.6 percent of foreign direct investments while 7.3 percent went to the Žilina Region, according to the National Bank of Slovakia.
The largest foreign investors in the Banská Bystrica Region are from the Netherlands (the Biotika company), Germany (Küster, Thorma), the UK and Norway (Slovalco), according to data from the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency.
Companies such as Železiarne Podbrezová, CBA Lučenec, Slovenské Magnezitové Závody, Slovglass, Slovmag and PPS Group are among the largest in the region.
In the Žilina Region big investors have come from South Korea (KIA Motors Slovakia, Mobis Slovakia), Germany (INA Kysuce, Sauer-Danfoss), Belgium (Punch Námestovo) and France (Stredoslovenská Energetika). Mondi Business Paper, Váhostav-SK, OFZ, ECCO Slovakia, Neografia and Tesla Liptovský Hrádok also contribute to the GDP of the region.