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Poland’s long journey from war-torn to cleantech

Poland's third-biggest city, Łódź, kickstarting success story with special economic zone


PHOTO Lodz Special Economic Zone

PHOTO Lodz Special Economic Zone

Hearing someone say, “Poland,” doesn’t exactly conjure up images of wind turbines and solar panels—at least not yet.

Nevertheless, the country most famous for its tragic war history is making an attempt to rebrand itself as a nation taking responsibility for its many environmental demons.

It’s hard to reconcile video images of Poland being bombed out by the Nazis with images of a burgeoning cleantech sector. That said, Germany’s own image has grown leaps and bounds, now an international leader in the green building industry.

Despite the country’s dependence on coal, reinvigorated government investment in Poland’s cleantech industry is getting noticed, and it’s made Russia’s neighbour one of the most attractive places to invest in all of Europe. Over the last year alone, Poland’s GDP has grown by 3.3 per cent, says its finance ministry.

And momentum remains strong.

One of the emerging success stories from Poland is from Eastern Europe’s former textile manufacturing capital in Łódź (pronounced woodge), the country’s third biggest city, located smack dab in the middle of the Poland.

The old abandoned textile mills that dot the streets in Łódź are getting a new lease on life thanks to powerful economic development at the municipal and federal levels. These buildings, in various states of disrepair, are being expertly remediated and renovated to house Łódź’s newest businesses, of which there have been thousands since the municipality revved up its stake in its own “special economic zone” creation in 1997.

“At the time, it was just deciding which system would be the best to attract investors,” says Aleksandra Suszczewicz from the Łódź Special Economic Zone. “And I think the Polish government chose correctly.”

PHOTO Lodz Special Economic Zone

PHOTO Lodz Special Economic Zone

The crown jewel of the Łódź textile mill renovations is where Suszczewicz and the investment team works. It’s a 19th Century Ludwik Grohman factory space that honours the region’s textile manufacturing throughout bright interiors blended with modern finishes. The revitalization of the historic factory earned a top European honour in 2013.

“We want these buildings to live, even though the textile industry is no more,” says Kamila Jagiello from Łódź’s Investor Service Bureau.

Many of the local revitalization projects involve construction firm Skanska, which is trying to bring a green hue of sustainability to the Łódź redevelopments.

“Our market is not very demanding for green, but we are trying for our country,” a Skanska representative said.

Some of the companies setting up shop in Łódź are impressive: Deloitte, KPMG, Veoila Environmental Services, Gillette, Dell and Kellogs, to name a few.

All in all, Lodz’s government has created about 29,000 local jobs through its special economic zone.

Łódź’s tax incentives and government support is currently the highest in Europe. Depending on company size, state aid is available for up to 70 per cent of eligible investment or labour costs.

Depending on who you ask, there are somewhere around 25 universities in Łódź, tending to more than 100,000 students. The city is even building a private English language school for the children of international business executives who’ve relocated to Poland.

Even Łódź’s arts scene is starting to flourish. It’s already considered the country’s fashion capital, and with some amazing old-meets-new architecture, it’s becoming a choice offbeat city for adventurous tourists.

Despite the emerging success of Łódź, which has a population of about 740,000, the city’s 12 per cent
unemployment rate still reflects the turmoil of transitioning out of the singularly-focused textiles sector. Neighbouring capital Warsaw, for instance, has a rate of just 4.5 per cent. Poznan to the west, just 3.5 per cent.

Much like the rest of the city, even the local soccer stadium in Łódź is getting a $3-million makeover.

For more information about the Łódź Special Economic Zone, please click here.