ORADEA - Transformation of the city's infrastructure with millions of Euro in water, sewage and road projects and development of international hotels near the Baile Felix spa - these were some of the changes ahead for the Transylvanian city discussed at last week's BBW Power Breakfast.
Hosted in partnership with City Hall, the County Prefectura, leading investment fund, Advent, European Drinks and Eximtur, the event at the Black Eagle Hotel attracted numerous participants from fields such as IT, property and construction, energy, FMCG, industrial manufacturing and tourism.
"Within five or six years, Oradea will be a European-standard conglomerate, with widespread suburban housing and land prices increasing fast," said Mayor Petru Filip.
"Renewing our attractive historic city center is a major preoccupation for local officials. Involving all utilities, the project began in April 2005 and will be completed soon."
Officials said the budget for the historic center project is around 24 million Euro from the EU's ISPA program and one million Euro in local funds.
Filip complimented BBW on acting as "a catalyst" for business information and said efforts by city hall in reviving economic life showed "how the role of public administrations after 2000 have changed: from being rather passive to actively supporting private sector's needs using the Nixon model of businesslike efficiency for public institutions."
The Mayor also said the city would utilize its natural advantage of nearby underground water supply for geo-thermal heating purposes. "This alternative source of energy will function in parallel with our traditional gas-based ones."
In a meeting with BBW before the event, Bihor's Prefect, Ilie Bolojan, said one of his aims was to reduce bureaucracy and use the power of his institution to make sure businesses were helped by public officials in the proper manner. "We are committed to providing quality public services - polite reception, an open-office approach, prompt response to complaints and immediate rejection of corrupt public servants," he said. "To help the business community, we facilitate meetings with interested investors and participate at business association meetings."
Sub-Prefect, Todor Albert, said a special analysis of the county's investment opportunities and potential had been conducted and a booklet entitled "Investor's Guide - Profile of Bihor Communities" published. "We offer concrete business ideas, with all areas in the county well represented, and key contacts of people in the relevant local administrations highlighted," he said, adding that a county-wide infrastructure program will be completed within seven years. Funding could be as much as 60 million Euro, said Dumitru Tiplea, chancellery director at the Prefectura.
Sorin Radu, director of Sapard 6 North West region, said that between 2002 and 2006, the agency financed 10 food processing projects amounting to 15.3 million Euro, 72 projects for agricultural exploitations in value of 17.5 million Euro, and 59 alternative initiatives regarding rural tourism and small handicraft enterprises totaling 9.5 million Euro. Examples of successful farms and food-processing plants include Tacea, Agroprod, Partimpex, PVMTrans and Cominca, each absorbing around one million Euro for modernization efforts. It also supported tourism development with small investments in bed and breakfast operations, including an area around the village of Padis in the Apuseni mountains.
Sebastian Tcaciuc, with Advent International, said his fund was interested in expanding its portfolio in the Bihor region. "We have already invested in 25 countries in central and eastern Europe and are currently looking for companies experiencing organic growth, with an average investment from us of 15-20 million Euro. We are interested in all sectors, except real-estate." Among Advent's investments have been Brewery Holdings, Euromedia, Mobifon-Connex, Terapia, and currently paint producer, Dufa.
With total investment at around 3.8 billion Euro, European Drinks co-owner Viorel Micula said his company is experiencing a 50 per cent annual revenue growth as it "completed the last part of the biggest beer factory in central and eastern Europe. Part of our growth is expansion of exports. Access from here to cities such as Munich, Prague, Vienna and Budapest makes that goal easier. It is rather amusing to see a Romanian company exporting beer to traditional-beer making countries like Germany and the Czech Republic," he said, smiling.
While confident of tourism opportunities in the Bihor region, speakers at the BBW event said strategic investment was the key to success, especially in better transport facilities.
"There is great potential, especially with the Felix spa attraction, but funds must be carefully invested in the right way by authorities," said Diana Cseke, with Eximtur.
She said her company, headquartered in Cluj-Napoca has more than 50,000 clients and enjoys a yearly turnover of 15 million Euro. It employs 85 people and has eight offices nationwide, she added.
Cornel Gaba, with Aerotravel, said, "Unfortunately, many tourist groups simply cross through the Bihor area. It hurts my national pride to see that proper infrastructure does not allow foreign tourists to stay and enjoy the beautiful mountain resorts here."
Saying rural tourism is undervalued, Dan Octavian, with consultancy group Pentacris and general director of Federation of Bihor Business Owners said, "We must sell our traditional tours at higher prices and offer a larger range of tourism attractions for foreign visitors," he said.
Mayor Filip said one added development starting this autumn will be the building of a new aqua entertainment park. He said that with the closeness of Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara international airports, Oradea's airport will host only domestic flights.
Gas stoves producer, Metalica, a company that employs 325 people, has expanded its operations, said head of planning, Constantin Pantis. "We are making investments in new technology to face expected competition from EU-based companies and we have already achieved quality-certified ISO 9002. Our export focus is Italy and Hungary but we also deal with Russia where we plan to send 15 per cent of our products." Ion Seres, president of plastics producer Plastor, which employs almost 1,000 people, said a strong partnership with French sports equipment producer Salomon has enhanced his group's success that. "We are at full capacity, exporting all over Europe wherever plastic parts are needed," he said.
Aluminum producer, Cemtrade, however, is facing an uncertain future, according to general director, Francisc Erdei. Employing 825 people, tough EU environmental requirements could mean some could lose their jobs on accession date. "Though this is possible, factory closure for environmental reasons is highly unlikely given that this process known as 'ecological closure' would cost around 14 Euro per square meter in chemically neutralizing the solid waste, and we cover 42 hectares. I suggest not a close-down but a transition period of five years, with the factory working at half capacity with a turnover of eight million Euro," said Erdei.
Emese Kocsis, CEO with Orion Shoes - a major Italian investment in the outskirts of Oradea, said in a discussion with BBW after the event, that her company enjoyed a turnover of 4.5 million Euro last year and now employed 400 workers.
Small IT companies are mushrooming in the Bihor region and a number of them were present at the event.
With an annual turnover of around 200,000 Euro and ISO-9001 certified, Bogdan Ioan with Arhipac, employs five programmers, while other IT specialists at the event included Cosmin Iovu, with Ciel, Zoltan Muresan, with NM Electro; and Alin Merches of Weblogic.
Other leaders attending the BBW event included Csaky Barna Zsombor of Immanuel Impex; Alexandru Varga, president, Lemnul Oradea; Dana Filimon, economic director with Diamant a sugar processor which took over Zaharul Oradea. Jointly owned by the German group, Pfeifer & Langen, and French-owned Cristal Union, it boasts an annual turnover of 12 million Euro.
Original article By: By Raul Cazan(Date: 2006-07-14) from Bucharest Business Week