By Aleksandar Pavlevski
The trend has grown in the past ten months — a wave of Greek businesses moving not only to Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, but to Macedonia too. The bilateral name dispute that led to a blocked NATO bid and a suit before the International Court of Justice has little to do with the bottom line.
“The economy is limitless. Politics created by the governments from the countries and larger international organisations cannot put a border [around] business interests. In our municipality there are already tens of Greek firms that bought or are willing to buy land for building factories for light industry. We have a very high level of trust for co-operation,” Petrovec Mayor Borce Mitevski told SETimes.
He and other mayors say Greek businessman are eyeing investments in all kinds of sectors –construction, the food industry, agriculture, textile, real estate. What they have no interest in is the longstanding name dispute.
Bitola, for example, located just 10km from the Greek border, is becoming a magnet for the textile industry. Mayor Vladimir Taleski told SETimes that Greeks own more factories there than anyone else.
Large numbers of them invest in business-friendly industrial zones offering cheap land, and low to no taxes or utility expenses collected by the municipality.
Taleski explains that Greeks “have bought parcels in the Zabeni industrial zone in Bitola where they are willing to expand their businesses by developing lumber, metal-processing and construction industries”.
He says the government’s decision to lower the initial price for public auction on land intended for economic and industrial construction to 1 euro per square meter proved to be wise.
Another commercial hot spot is the southernmost city of Dojran, which borders Greece and shares Dojran Lake. The area is a draw for Greek hoteliers and those involved in light industry. In the last two years, around 20 firms owned by Greeks have started operations there. More are awaiting approval of the urban plan.
“Cheap labour and good tax conditions are key points when it comes to starting a business in Macedonia,” Dojran Mayor Gligor Cabulev told SETimes. “Olive plantations, and with that building bigger factories for their processing and preserving, seem to be the most attractive for Greek businessman.”
Unofficially, Greek investments in Macedonia total more than 1 billion euros, making Greece among the top foreign investors. Interest began rocketing in 2007, encompassing telecommunications, energy, the food sector, construction and banking.
Greeks own a few big companies in the country, such as OKTA, cement factory Cementarnica Usje, a marble factory in Prilep and two banks: Stopanska Banka and Alfa Banka.
One recent destination for investors is the city of Strumica where municipality records indicate that more than 40 firms are owned by Greek citizens.
The most attractive investments seem to be processing and production of agricultural products, furniture, chemical household products and textiles. And with these investments come new jobs.
In all, 16 new factories are under way, which will create 1,300 new jobs. Two of these new factories have Greek investors, Strumica Mayor Zoran Zaev said.
The chamber of commerce in neighbouring Bulgaria says there are about 800 Greek companies employing a total of about 82,000 people. These companies say they moved there primarily because Bulgaria boasts the lowest tax rate in the EU, offers cheaper labour, macro-economic stability, good transportation services, cheap property and rent — much of which applies to Macedonia as well.
And Macedonia has its arms wide open. “Every job opening is welcomed for our country’s development, therefore improving the overall employment rate in our country regardless of which country the investor comes from,” Cabulev said.