The British-Polish Chamber of Commerce was established in 1992 to facilitate business between Britain and Poland. The Krakow office, in a beautiful building at
ul. sw. Anna 9, strives to make foreign investment in the city more attractive and easier. Any international company ? British or non-British ? and any Polish company is welcome to join. Andrew Hallam, managing director of South Poland Business Link, the company that operates the British-
Polish Chamber of Commerce in south Poland, discusses the chamber and how his Polish adventure began.
The Krakow Post: When was the first time you came to Krakow?
Andrew Hallam: My Polish adventure actually began in London around 1985 when I met two engaging, rather crazy, Poles at the National Film School — Tomasz Borkowy and Pawel Dangel. They were refugees, having left Poland at the start of martial law in 1981. Tomek had been a well-known actor in Poland for his role as Andrzej Talar in the Polish TV serial ?Dom? and Paweł had been a theatre director. He later returned to Poland and is now President of insurance company Allianz. They introduced me to the very strange world ? as it then seemed to me – of Polish culture and tradition as cherished by the Polish émigré community and encouraged me to visit Poland, which eventually I did in 1988.
Q: What were your first impressions?
A: In one word, shocked; Poland was, of course, still Communist and it was like another planet compared to England ? grey buildings, nothing in the shops, long queues, but also people with a huge appetite for life. In Krakow, I met Zbyszek Ksiazek (author of ?Tu es Petrus?). Neither of us spoke the other?s language, but a bottle of vodka later and we had become lifelong friends. I came back in 1989 to produce a documentary for Sky News, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the World War II, and then kept coming back at intervals, sometimes for work, always for pleasure. I finally arrived here for good with my wife Kay and our two-year-old son in 1995.
Q: What made you settle in Krakow?
A: Above all, friends; also the atmosphere, the challenge, the sense of being in at the beginning of something new. Kay and I built a house in Tyniec (just outside Krakow), alongside Zbyszek and another friend, Andrzej Mleczko (the cartoonist).
Q: How did you start working for the chamber?
A: When I arrived in Poland, I worked as an English teacher in the elementary school in Tyniec. Through friends in the media I did some interesting bits and pieces in film and TV — it was a bit like being a student again ? and I also worked in the ?Krakow 2000? Festival Office. This brought me into contact with the BPCC, and in 1998 they offered me a job. First, I helped set up BPCC branches across the country, then I became director of a rapidly expanding South Poland region. On a personal level, the BPCC allowed me to get back to the kind of work I had been doing in the UK, where I had moved out of broadcasting and into Public Affairs and Communications, working for the Labor Party. It was an added bonus that I was mostly dealing with people who spoke English — I do speak Polish, but I still dream in English.
Q: How did the chamber get established?
A: It all started with a group of British business pioneers who established what might be called a mutual support club, helping each other with practical aspects of living and working in Poland. The thing got bigger and more sophisticated as more international companies moved into Poland. In Krakow, we were always international rather than British, filling a gap left by the other international chambers which stayed in Warsaw. The issues really are the same whatever the nationality and my view anyway is that we are a local chamber with an international perspective rather than an international chamber per se, promoting a particular national interest. First and foremost we promote doing business in the region. We are completely independent, not financed by any government body but rather subscriptions and paid services.
Q: What are the features that attract British investors to Krakow?
A: These things change. Investors come in different shapes and sizes. Tesco or BP — large retailers — were attracted by a market of 40 mln people, though Tesco also increasingly sources products from Poland for its stores in the UK and elsewhere. Tesco?s entry strategy was to buy a Polish supermarket chain based in Bielsko, but later they moved to Krakow where the talent pool was larger and communications better. Normally, when an international company comes, it will come with a number of expatriates who initially fill senior management positions. Some of them are probably married, and Krakow offers more to families than anywhere else in Poland. Krakow is a nice place to live and there is a lot going on. The charm of the city is incredibly important. Communications are also important, the fast train to Warsaw, the motorway to Katowice and Wroclaw and direct flights to the UK and elsewhere. From the point of view of families, it is a bonus that Krakow has two international schools; the International School of Krakow, which recently moved to a new purpose-built facility in Lusina on the outskirts of Krakow — this is where my children go — and the British International School in the town center. Contrary to some recent newspaper reports there is spare capacity in the system. In fact, only Warsaw has more international school places than Krakow.
Q: What scares potential investors away from Krakow?
A: I don?t know that Krakow scares anyone away.
Q: How about bureaucracy?
A: Bureaucracy is everywhere. I don?t think its specific to Krakow. There are, of course, some areas which we would all like to see improved, but my view is that we all need to take responsibility for bringing about improvements. There is a tendency to lay the blame with the local authorities, but in my view the problems are rather systemic than about they are about the competencies of particular individuals. In fact, we work closely with several cities, and the mayors of Krakow, Katowice and Kielce are some of the best and most committed politicians I have met. Nevertheless it is true that government, business, the universities and other groups could work more closely. Links between stakeholder groups should be definitely reinforced. The reason sometimes people do not cooperate is that they fear losing power, but this is not my view. This is perhaps a legacy of Communism, but times are changing. Money is a great way of encouraging people to change their behavior, so I think EU funding will speed this process as the EU demands people work together in partnership. And there are a lot of good people out there who want things to work.
Q: What are the biggest British companies investing in Krakow?
A: There are different kinds of investors. Tesco and BP are the largest British investors in Poland and they have their head offices in Krakow, and Mittal Steel, which has its global head office in London, operates the Sendzimir Steelworks in Nowa Huta. There are also a lot of smaller investors in business process outsourcing, environmental technologies, construction and so on. Recently, of course, there has been a great deal of British investment in property.
Q: Is there a particular district in Kraków where the British invest the most?
A: Anywhere where they can usefully employ their skills and make money by doing so.
Q: What makes Krakow a good investment location?
A: Location and culture have a tremendous influence on an investor?s choice of where to go. Krakow is a university town, and there is no other city in Poland with so many students in one place. Krakow, above all, has the advantage of its cultural and economic heritage. Its cultural and commercial history put it in an extremely strong position.
Q: So we are doing fine?
A: Yes, Krakow is doing well. But we could do better of course, because we could have more smaller investments, and more value-added investments. One of the dangers, stemming from the very high growth of the last few years, is complacency. You have to keep building infrastructure, keep striving to improve what you have to offer.
Q: What do you see in Krakow?s investment-picture future?
A: In attracting investors we do not actually promote Krakow as such, but South Poland. The media tend to frame the discussion in terms of Krakow versus Wroclaw, but it is my view that rather this region is competing with regions in China, India and Europe — it?s a global competition. A word I like very much is ?coopetition? ? cities should cooperate and compete at the same time, pooling resources where appropriate. The challenge now is in developing the human resource potential of the region. We have to find some way to encourage the best and brightest people to stay in the region and to support the long-term unemployed back into work. I have mentioned EU funds ? which can better be called EU investment. This investment can have a huge impact on the attractiveness of the region to foreign business, by supporting development of the labor force. Here the UK experience can definitely help Poland. We are working closely with a UK company A4e, which is the UK?s largest private provider of welfare to work programs, who are keen to invest in Poland. Competing for investments globally, it will be important to demonstrate that stakeholders are working to the same vision, striving to improve the climate for business growth.
Q: Can you suggest which sectors can expect to see British investments?
A: I think there are great opportunities in IT and engineering, where Poland excels, and increasingly in these areas we may look at valued-added investments ? for example, in research and development ? rather than simply low-cost advantages of being in Poland. Small and medium-sized companies are increasingly finding their way to the region. The driver for this, we cannot disguise, is the low cost base, but it is also important that as the economy develops so the risk is perceived as less, the soft infrastructure is seen to be in place and so on. The challenge, however, is that to some extent growth so far has been able to take advantage of spare capacity in the system; now we need to build capacity. So the point is to develop skills. Universities and business have a great responsibility to work together in this area. Young people here are hungry ? ambitious. So the point is to create opportunities for them here so that they don?t have to go abroad.
Q: If you were a British investor, and you heard the word ?Poland,? would you think about Warsaw?
A: No, when you think Poland, you think Krakow. Since the accession to the EU, all the press in the UK has been about Krakow, largely focused on the city as a tourist destination. If you asked a British person to name a Polish city, I?m pretty sure Krakow would be the first city ? possibly the only city — they would mention.
Q: What can we do to increase investment?
A: We need to reach out and we need more joined-up thinking. That is to say we need to work together to target specific investors. We are now in a new phase of development ? it won?t be enough to simply point out that we have good communications, beautiful buildings, lots of students. Rather, we need to be able to demonstrate as a region or a city that we have a regional strategic partnership comprising employers, local authorities, universities and others; that we know what skills we will need in the next five to 10 years and we are working together ? using EU funds – to meet those skills requirements. We have to go out to potential investors and say: This is what we have in place, this is what we are doing to make it easier for you to do business.
Q: Are there any campaigns in the UK promoting investing in Poland or in Krakow?
A: I don?t think it is about specific campaigns, but rather, creating a climate conducive to business, building relationships where we can. For instance, the BPCC was instrumental in matching Malopolska and South England which resulted in the European program GROW which supports co-operation and joint projects between four European high growth regions. We also helped bring about the link between Krakow?s Jagiellonian University, Oxford University and several other leading European universities. These relationships are important as they bring people closer together and help people to understand each other?s expectations. We are also working together with local businesses to provide a kind of one-stop shop for those looking to do business in the region. I would end by saying that as far as promoting Poland goes, Poles working in the UK are the best promotion one could hope for. Almost everyday, we get enquiries from businesses saying they have been turned on to the opportunities in Poland by Polish people working for them.
More information about South Poland Business Link and the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce can be found on BPCC web site: www.bpcc.org.pl, in magazines ?Contact ? The Magazine of the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce? and ?SP Magazine,? which are available at the head office of South Poland Business Link:
ul. sw. Anny 9 (Tel.: +48 12 426 25 35). In September, South Poland Business Link will launch South Poland Business Online: www.southpoland.com
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