Mining is over in Upper Nitra and, with respect to the past, locals are looking for new opportunities for the region’s development. In Prievidza, the center of the region, experts from the Ministry of Economy of the Slovak Republic and the Slovak Academy of Sciences discussed with local entrepreneurs and local government representatives about how to prepare the business environment for the transformation.
The Action Plan for the Transformation of the Upper Nitra Region has been prepared since 2018 and was approved by the Slovak Government in July 2019. The developing and approval of the action plan is seen by all participants as a success and an example of good practice.
But now the time has come to focus on its systematic implementation in the region. To this end, CEPA-Friends of the Earth Slovakia, a Bankwatch member group, organised in October a seminar in Prievidza on „How to improve the business environment?“ (with the awareness that one isolated event cannot achieve much unless it is followed up by systematic engagement with the communities).
What the seminar showed was that, while there are project ideas on the ground, much work needs to be done on linking their initiators with sources of financing available for them – and here is where central and regional authorities, as well as experts, have an important part to play.
During the process of preparation of the Action Plan, a collection of indicative project ideas that could be supported was gradually created. The first call was initiated by the Trenčín Council in March 2018, and around 80 project plans were sent. In March 2019, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic for Investment and Information announced a second call for indicative plans. The short notice was only sent by e-mail to the members of the working group, nevertheless in 2019 we saw a significant increase in new applicants and intentions compared to 2018, which is a positive trend. At the time of sending their indicative intentions, the applicants had no information on what could be financed and what could not. Another problem was that the applicants were under the impression that they would be receiving feedback and further discuss their projects, which has not happened so far. However, what the two calls for project ideas show is that there is interest from local communities to be subjects in the transformation.
The strong business environment in Upper Nitra in the area of production and industry is a given, but the strong industrial base is not reflected in the level of absorbtion of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) within the region. The districts Prievidza and Partizánske draw less money than the Slovak average. This potential needs to be exploited.
The Slovak Academy of Sciences analysed the needs of the small and medium entrepreneurs in Upper Nitra in the context of the EU funds. The need to improve the workforce capability, the development of technology management and deployment capacities are seen as common needs. Start-ups and young companies need help. Many businesses need assistance in switching to low-carbon energy supplies and energy efficiency, improving the sofistication of production and accessing markets and exports. Support is also needed to open up new areas of market opportunities, such as the circular and carbon-neutral economy and social services (including social enterprises).
The Ministry of Economy has presented a kaleidoscope of currently available business support. These are not just non-repayable financial contributions. According to experts, credit and other non-financial support should also be used.
Anyone interested was given the opportunity to comment on the upcoming call for project ideas. The call will be aimed at promoting the launch of a new or innovative product or innovation in the production process. The total allocation for the call is € 10,000,000 and the call is expected to be announced at the turn of 2019/2020.
As a local entrepreneur said, “I would welcome the permanent possibility of receiving advice in a similarly constructive spirit as the Ministry of Economy has shown today.”
The region has a chance to become an example of good practice, but more meetings where face-to-face communication takes place between beneficiaries and policy-makers are needed. It is not enough just to create a counseling center, it is necessary to employ, evaluate and retain quality people. And long-term, systematic business support is necessary.
What is the most important conclusion for the local communities? Think and prepare projects. It takes two to tango. Having money out there is not enough, good projects are needed to spend it on.
Photo by Flickr user Will.