Slovakia remains attractive to Austrians

Companies praise the adoption of dual education scheme, point to potential in tourism.

Graduates from vocational schools are needed.Graduates from vocational schools are needed. (Source: TASR)

NOT THE recent changes to the tax legislation, but the stable environment is what matters to Austrian companies, shows the survey which the Austrians carry out every year. The two countries have traditionally good business relations, and not only because they share a border.

“According to the National Bank of Slovakia, the foreign direct investments from Austria to Slovakia amounted to €6.857 billion in 2012, thanks to which Austria is the second biggest investor in Slovakia, after the Netherlands,” Richard Dírer, spokesperson for the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO), told The Slovak Spectator.

The Austrian investors praise mostly the business location of Slovakia and also the human capital, stressing the flexibility, motivation and the work of the people, said Patrick Sagmeister, commercial counsellor at the Austrian Embassy, pointing to the results of the surveys they regularly carry out in cooperation with Germany.

“The only thing that is very important to them is that they have stable conditions and things do not change back and forth all the time,” Sagmeister told The Slovak Spectator.

Dual education in focus

One of the changes adopted this year was the re-introduction of the dual education scheme which is based on examples from German-speaking countries, including Austria.

“Slovakia had had a long tradition of dual education and in the last 20 years it has been forgotten, but there is know-how there,” Sagmeister said, adding that though it is a step in the right direction, there are still many things that need to be done.

The Austrian system has three basic characteristics: 80 percent of young people attend vocational schools, with 40 percent of them undergoing dual education and the rest full vocational education, explained Mária Berithová, head of the Slovak-Austrian Chamber of Commerce.

The graduates then get certificates which they can use when seeking a job, but also the school-leaving certificate allowing them to study at universities. Moreover, the dual education system is connected to the economic system, Berithová told The Slovak Spectator.

The Austrian Embassy itself has been active in training secondary school students. Together with the Education Ministry it introduced the Young Stars pilot project in September 2014 in Zlaté Moravce that should serve as an example of implementing the dual education scheme in Slovakia as well as abroad.

“It was our intention to show that it is possible to do something like this,” Sagmeister said.

They chose Zlaté Moravce because of the high concentration of Austrian companies there that need the same kind of people, he explained. Aside from four Austrian firms, also two German and two Slovak companies participate in it. Currently they have 33 students, but as of September they plan to double the number, according to Sagmeister.

As for future plans, they want to start a second project, probably around Prievidza as there are Austrian companies relatively close to one another that are willing to join it, he added.

Investors do not lose interest

The economic relations between Austria and Slovakia are above-standard, according to Sagmeister. The trade volume has increased 10-fold since the establishment of the country in 1993, and currently amounts to some €5.5 billion, he added.

“There are also many Austrian companies in Slovakia,” Sagmeister said, adding that gradually also Slovak firms are entering the Austrian market.

According to the Dun & Brandstreet database, more than 700 Austrian companies are currently active in Slovakia, operating in various fields. Sagmeister and Berithová even talk about 2,500 firms active here.

SARIO has completed 25 projects with Austrian investors since 2002, with the total investment amounting to €3.8 billion. Thanks to these activities about 3,460 jobs have been created, especially in the fields of the auto industry, the production of insulation materials, roofing, machinery, wood and metals processing, construction sector and financial services.

Also data from the Austrian National Bank show that it registered as many as 253 Austrian participations by 2012, within which 242 Austrian firms invested altogether €5.664 billion in Slovakia, Dírer added.

During the past year, there have been three business trips to Austria. In November 2014 there was a Business Circle investment seminar held in Vienna, where SARIO’s consultants presented the scheme of state aid. In the same month they also participated in the Export Forum in Linz where they promoted the business environment in Slovakia. Finally, in April 2015 SARIO participated in a business-investment seminar in Innsbruck, introducing Slovakia to Tyrolean small and medium-sized companies, Dírer said.

Untapped potential

Even with the high-level business relations, Austrian investors may still be interested in investing in Slovakia. The country may benefit from Austrian experiences from the automotive, electro-technical and machinery industries, as well as R&D, according to Dírer.

“From a global viewpoint the Austrian machinery industry has a prominent position in producing specialised devices and offers high-tech made-to-measure solutions,” he added.

The countries can also deepen their cooperation via several transport and energy infrastructure projects which are currently underway, according to Berithová. This includes projects connected to the highway between Bratislava and Vienna, but also the railway connection between Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, the interconnection of the Schwechat and Bratislava airports, and also the possibility to build the broad-gauge railway, she added.

Moreover, Sagmeister stressed the potential of the ICT field or the so-called “smart factory”, meaning the “internet kind of factories where everything is interconnected and all parts are smart” which will tell the employees if something is broken. Another area is tourism.

“Slovakia has very beautiful countryside,” Sagmeister said, adding that the potential lies in building its tourism infrastructure.

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