I see Novi Sad as a modern European city which has a strong university, IT sector and service sector (I am primarily referring to banks and insurance companies), as well as a growing industry and fully utilized agricultural and tourist potential
For months and even years before we started implementing many ongoing projects, there had been negotiations and planning. Nothing happened overnight, which is why believe in that saying that goes „honest and hard work always pay off in the end“. This is also the reason why I am satisfied and proud of the fact that the number of companies interested in investing in Novi Sad is growing, and many of these are large multi-national companies and investment funds.
Although, Vojvodina has been the epicentre of new investments for years, not all of them ended up in Novi Sad. What made the province’s capital city so appealing to foreign investors?
I am afraid that I have to disagree with your statement that Vojvodina has been the epicentre of new investments for years. The official statistical data show to the contrary, while the general quality of life of Vojvodina’s population was not satisfactory during that period. The good news is that everything is changing for better. As the administrative, political, university and culture centre of the Province of Vojvodina, Novi Sad is today considered one of the most attractive places for investing capital not only in Serbia, but in this part of Europe too. This is validated by the arrival of several multi-national companies, including the German company Continental which is opening a research and development centre in Novi Sad and, by doing so, is propelling our city into the top league in terms of attracting investments. The fact remains that we have done a lot on providing relevant infrastructure, including utility, and building industrial zones. We also have a strong university and an extremely good foundation in quality workforce. Considering Serbia’s political and financial stability, the good ratings that the country is getting from international financial institutions, and a strong support from the Serbian government and then PM and now President Aleksandar Vučić, which I think was of crucial importance for the arrival of big investors to Novi Sad, it doesn’t came as a surprise that Novi Sad has its doors wide open to investors willing to invest their capital here.
How much did the arrival of companies like Delphi and Lear change the investment image of Novi Sad?
We are talking about the first such investments in decades, and these are companies that operate in one of the strongest industrial branches that is automotive industry. Their arrival resulted in around 5,000 new jobs and safe investments which have also prompted other investors to come, and have boosted many aspects of the city’s economic potential.
Can Novi Sad, with the help of foreign investors, regain some of the huge industrial capacities that it had prior to the transition?
— The only thing we can do, with the arrival of domestic and foreign investors, is to again stand on our two feet because it is impossible to go back to the past and correct the mistakes that were done back done which caused a huge damage to all of us. In the last 25 years, Novi Sad practically lost all of its industrial capacities, with the biggest damage done during the privatization which was poorly implemented.
How important is for Novi Sad’s investment profile that Continental is opening the research and development centre here?
This is a clear indication that, apart from the vocational workers, we have the most educated engineers too. This also means that Serbia is not a country with cheap labour, as we are being accused by the very people who carried out the privatization process in a catastrophically bad manner. Serbia is chosen by a global business giant as a place of business where at least 500 engineers will get a job and receive an average salary of 2,300 EUR. Continental will open its strongest department – the Research and Development Centre – in Novi Sad which is a real indicator that we have reached the top of Europe. If you bear in mind that Novi Sad is also the centre of IT industry which has been continually developing, and that we are rightfully called the Silicon Valley, than it is only logical that we are not going to stop when Continental starts operating here.
The city has exceptional strong scientific capacities, primarily in the Faculty of Technical Sciences and Biosens Institute. What is required for these scientific capacities to be market-valorized through attracting investments and projects with
a high added value?
I think that all we need to do is to give them a free rein to work and show their knowledge because they are globally competitive. Our city government, in collaboration with the the provincial and state governments, implements various incentive programmes, but we also participate in the development of all scientific capacities that our university has. Together, we are building the Science and Technology Park on the university campus that will be a practical amalgamation of education and business. The plan is for the Faculty of Technical Sciences to have classrooms and laboratories there. The Park will also have premises for software startups that will be the place where our IT experts will receive education, work and showcase their ideas. Our plan is to have as fewer IT experts leaving the country as possible, to have them stay here, for us to create the best possible conditions for them, and for them to become the best export product of Serbia, i.e. to create an opportunity to export products that are made in Serbia.
How much did these investments affect the overall development of the city?
— There are many other investments, not just the ones you have mentioned, that maybe have not been that attractive to the media and hence did not have a high public visibility, which have substantially changed both the city’s business climate and its image. For instance, we have recorded a strong growth of construction industry in the last year or so. Recently, the line ministry published the data about the number of active construction sites in the country – Belgrade leads with around 1,100, followed by Novi Sad with 723. We are carrying out activities relating to many large-scale projects that we are implementing with the state and provincial governments. We are also continuing to improve the utility infrastructure in the city, and construct business and shopping centres and production facilities of investors who have chosen Novi Sad as the place to invest their capital. These
are ongoing process. Just take a walk around Novi Sad and you’ll see what we mean by ’investment boom’.
What other plans does the city have in terms of providing infrastructure for investment locations?
We are continuing with the works on utility infrastructure, especially on the entrances and exits to the city, i.e. The main roads and roundabouts. These are all prerequisites for us becoming even more competitive in terms of attracting investments. We have a comparative advantage by being positioned on the important transport corridors, and we intend to use them intelligently by investing in improving and building infrastructure. We are currently in the process of building the new Sentandrejski Boulevard, and we are drafting a project for another Danube bridge which will be the last leg of the so-called western city bypass. Also, we are finalizing the works on the construction of a road and railway bridge in the location of the old Žeželj Bridge, along with the access roads. The bridge is of a strategic importance for our country because it lies on the international route that is the Belgrade-Budapest railroad. We are also proceeding with improving the industrial zones along the E-75 motorway, and we have ideas for certain brownfield and greenfield investments.
How much did the introduction of experimental worker profiles to dual education prove important for the training of the workforce that is in demand on the labour market?
We are yet to see the results but we have been trying, in many different ways, to have vocational high schools in Novi Sad consider the labour market demands in the next few years when determining the enrollment quotas for certain worker profiles. The statistics show that the unemployment among young people in Europe is lower in those countries that have dual education like Switzerland where children are starting to earn money at the tender age of 15, unlike in our country, where most people get their first job at the age of 30. Implementing dual education changes our education system, and the way we think and live in a systemic and profound way. I think it is doable in practice and that it is quite possible to see the results of this through lower unemployment. In Novi Sad, for instance, there is a growing need for craftsmen and various technicians which is a great opportunity for many students who won’t have to worry about finding a job since they will have one during schooling.
What is your vision for strategic development of Novi Sad in the following period?
— I see Novi Sad as a modern European city, with the population of half a million, which also has a strong university, IT sector and service sector (I am primarily referring to banks and insurance companies), as well as a growing industry and fully utilized agricultural and
tourist potential. Apart from Continental’s Research and Development Centre, there is another opportunity opening up for Novi Sad – the city can become the so-called share centre for global financial and service companies. In the next few years, Novi Sad will also
implement the projects the 2019 Youth Capital of Europe and the 2021 European Capital of Culture. These projects hold national importance, and create a great opportunity for all of us, for development of our economy and tourism, and for our branding on the European culture scene. We are the only non-EU city to have been given the aformentioned titles and I do expect substantial effects from being „bestowed“ with this „double crown“, i.e. for us to progress even more and to show why Novi Sad is an increasingly attractive, or rather a must-go destination for many global companies.