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Balkans.com: What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of Slovenia that investors should consider?
Jesovnik: As a location for inward foreign direct investment Slovenia boasts a number of competitive advantages: interesting geographical position, good infrastructure connections with important markets in the European Union and Balkans, educated and internationally savvy labor force, as well as a stable political and macroeconomic framework and high quality of life. We have a quality workforce, although a bit more expensive than in the other countries of CEE, but still cheaper than in Austria, Germany, Italy. In the last few years we have tripled the number of students in higher education process, and we are working on the structuring of our higher education, since higher education and businesses should get more and more connected.
Our position on the East West and North South transport connections is very good, and our Port of Koper plays a significant role in providing shortest maritime transit routes between the countries of Central Europe and crucial markets of the Middle and Far East. I have to mention that we are focusing on the nine business logistic zones in which countries such as India, China, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, North American and Arab Countries can enter this part of Europe and establish production facilities in those zones. We have all that is necessary to become Europe's logistic and transport centre. But competition around us is huge, so we need to specialize. We also have very good connections to regional markets, because our capital, Ljubljana is geographically located to close to 450 million consumers all over Europe in all directions.
I am proud to say that Slovenia was successful in its transition from socialism to a market economy. As a part of former Yugoslavia, Slovenia was probably the only country of all the CEE countries, which opened its economy to the OECD markets in the sixties and built partnerships. Also, our model of reorganization and privatisation was different, which proved to be very successful, but it has to be changed to meet the challenge of globalization. Throughout the transition period in the nineties, Slovenia's economic development achieved favorable economic results, providing a strong basis for further development. But due to our tradition I must say, that Slovenia is still a very industry-minded country, so our challenge for the future is to become a more service oriented economy. We can already see positive trends, we are increasingly becoming a service economy. I certainly believe that Slovenia is geographically well-situated and well-positioned in the region. I even see Slovenia as the most competitive country in the region after Austria, taking into account Slovenia’s latest national standards such as e-business and e-government.
Balkans.com: Which industries/sectors in your country you find most promising in terms of growth and sustainability, and therefore interesting for investors?
Jesovnik: Slovenia has a small domestic market with two million inhabitants. Because of that and because of the specific position of Slovenia among the countries in transition, the most promising sectors in terms of growth and sustainability are services. Greater perspective lies in product sectors with higher added value.
Prospective sectors worth outlining for future foreign investments would be the automotive industry, tourism, energy and power supply, information technology and communications. Huge possibilities lie in research and development, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, electronic and electrical industries, logistics and distribution, and other services and consultancy activities.
I need to mention that Slovenia invests a substantial amount of resources into infrastructural development, with the aim of creating better and faster links to all parts of Europe. Because of Slovenia’s strategic position, historical links and knowledge of foreign languages, it could act as a starting point for foreign investors for entering the South-East European markets. Also, due to our geo-strategic location and other advantages, foreign investors could make use of Slovenia’s position as a logistic and distribution centre for other neighboring markets.
Balkans.com: Which type of foreign investments do you think is the most suitable for your country?
Jesovnik: It has to be said that our country was not a magnet for huge investment in the past, primarily because of its small size, land accessibility, quite expensive labor force and high environmental standards. EU membership and particularly the adoption of the common currency offered opportunities for an increase in foreign investment as business risks were reduced and new investment opportunities arose. The best investments in Slovenia proved to be small or medium size investments ranging from 2 to 13 millions euros including 50, 100 or 500 people. We are very pleased that the companies which invested in our country often return to apply for our tender again with new products and higher investment. We welcome all kinds of investors who are willing to invest in and develop the environment they are in.
Balkans.com: Our readers are investors and business people who are investing already or are going to invest in the region. What piece of advice you would give them.
Jesovnik: Slovenia is very desirable for direct foreign investment due to its location on main traffic routes. Almost two decades ago, we were perceived as a small market of only two million consumers, but after joining the European Union the potential is opening. This makes Slovenia the centre for foreign investments for the emerging Balkan markets with an overall reasonable business cost. We often say that we are an investment location that delivers quality at a reasonable price. Strong commercial contacts across Eastern and South Eastern Europe, excellent infrastructure, a major Adriatic port, and a highly educated work force have attracted many foreign companies to enter Slovenia, for example Bosch Siemens, Danfoss, IBM, Microsoft, Sandoz Group (Novartis), Oracle, Renault – to mention just a few. And last but not the least, business risk evaluations present Slovenia as a country with the lowest risk rate of all the Central and Eastern European transition countries. The country is becoming progressively more attractive for foreign investors due to its open and competitive economy, skilled workforce, well-developed infrastructure and high quality of life, as well as its geo-strategic position. It has advanced substantially in implementing a legal framework for a market economy. So Slovenia’s open-minded business environment offers great opportunities for investment.
Balkans.com: You mentioned that JAPTI offers support to foreign investors. Could you explain this a little bit?
Jesovnik: The main task of Public Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Entrepreneurship and Foreign investments is to promote Slovenia as a prospective location for foreign companies to invest in. So we are giving all the necessary help and support that potential investor might need in Slovenia. We are more or less similar to other agencies of this type in Europe. We have the capacity to provide investors with information on investment opportunities and business operating conditions. This assistance aims to reduce investors’ start-up costs associated with site selection and includes investment-specific information and company counseling. All services are free of charge and include crucial information to develop foreign investment strategies, understand sector trends, assess locations, and make contact with authorities and supplier clusters. We offer information on legislation, taxes and incentives, provide information on Slovenian suppliers, organize fact-finding missions, handpick industrial sites to suit investors' needs and a range of other services. We remain the investor's partner even when the project is running at full speed. That is why we are opening JAPTI representative offices of Slovenian economy abroad. We already have seven offices in Milan, Italy; Düsseldorf, Germany; Bucharest, Romania; Istanbul, Turkey; Shanghai,China; Kazan, Russia and Sao Paulo,Brazil. We plan to open five more by the end of the year. These offices enhance Slovenia’s presence and build public awareness of its trade and investment potential in the host countries. We organize and participate in different investment conferences. We participate in government delegations visiting foreign countries and recently we started promoting Slovenia actively at real estate fairs.
We also have one scheme to attract foreign investors, which is Public tender for FDI Cost Sharing Grant Scheme. That means that foreign companies making direct investments in Slovenia may apply for financial grants. The purpose of the Invitation for Applications is to boost the appeal of Slovenia as a location for foreign direct investment. We do this by lowering the entry (start-up) costs to the investors and offering them financial incentives of up to 30 percent of the investment. In 2007, JAPTI awarded financial incentives to 11 projects proposed by foreign investors, which promise to create 949 new jobs over the next three years, mostly in a medium/high technology manufacturing sector, in an internationally traded service activity or in research & development. Answers were given by our Director, Peter Ješovnik, M.Sc. Please note his CV below AGENCY PROFILEPublic Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Entrepreneurship and Foreign Investments mission is to enhance Slovenia’s economic competitiveness through technical and financial assistance to entrepreneurs, businesses and investors. It is a point of contact for foreign investors, local exporters and importers, and it works closely with key players including the Slovenian Government and local authorities, as well as business, trade and professional associations. We have capacity to provide investors with information on investment opportunities and business operating conditions. This assistance aims to reduce investors’ start-up costs associated with site selection and includes investment-specific information and company counselling.