Eng. Plamen Panchev, the founder of Trakia Economic Zone, president of Trakia Economic Zone Cluster, and President of BoD of Sienit Holding Jsc.

Eng. Plamen Panchev, the founder of Trakia Economic Zone, president of Trakia Economic Zone Cluster, and President of BoD of Sienit Holding Jsc.

Trakia Economic Zone has attracted influential investors on its ground. Which is to strike the most attractive note in it in 2018?

Trakia Economic Zone (TEZ) gave proof through the years that it is the right place for investment. It is a fact of the matter that in 2018, nowhere but there will be commissioned the first Bulgarian-based factory manufacturing aircraft parts of the French factory Latécoère which is a foremost manufacturer in the aircraft industry. However, at the beginning of 2018, we have still more on the premium list– we are to set out with 12 more projects. Practically, from the very first month of this year we know about EUR 30 mill investments. More intriguing yet, half of the new stated investments come from Bulgarian companies.

Which are they in particular?

Speaking of which, one is Biomashinostroene (Biotech Machine Building), its expansions involves new logistics platforms and manufacturing facilities over 32 000 m2 plot area (that is, 6000 m2 in the aggregate). TVT, which is a packaging consumables and packaging machine manufacturer who is to develop its logistics over 4500 Further down the list, Elco Mess is to develop a sausage manufacturing factory over 15 000 m2, and ENKO Plastics who is a producer of carriage plastics packages and expands its production. Interlink Group intends to accommodate on a 25 000 m2 site where they are to develop a logistics warehouse (4000 m2). Sting, the drug distributor, is willing to develop stock houses over 8 000 m2 site.  Traditionally, high interest is held in Trakia Economic Zone  by companies such as Humanita who develops an own factory for textile sorting and recycling. In addition, the interest is held by Kaufland, WilliElbeGelenkwellen, Mecalit – all of them are expanding their bases here, VEM is a newcomer investor, and William Hughes /with one successive expansion/. Such are the said investments in particular.

Following 22 years of development and intense work, do you remember where it all started?

First to start was the cherry processing factory to supply the demand of Ferrero Nahrungsund Genussmittel Industrie. More precisely, this is the German branch of the world-renown Italian confectionary products manufacturer Ferrero. The local company ‘Agri Bulgaria’ was to supply Bulgarian cherries to fill in Mon Cheri chocolates, therefore Ferrero was in quest of a proper location for its production base. Then we made them believe we were going to make it for 10 months so they would be able to start for the cherry crop in June. Practically, it was by the development we made for this client that we started Martiza Zone, which is a part of Trakia Economic Zone. Later on,  Ferrero recommended us to further companies in Germany intending to place their investments in Bulgaria. They were reached us, so that following the fifth investor we were well-known to every investor who entered the Bulgarian market.  Currently, Trakia Economic Zone stands among the largest-scale economic projects in the country. That not only in terms of  its area size– 10 700 000 m2 of which 1/3 already occupied – however, in terms of implemented investments. Within a 22 –year span, upward of EUR5 bill have been invested here with the opening of over 30 000 jobs.

A big company may well place its investment wherever it would see fit, however, will there be found a place for SME within Trakia Economic Zone? 

 Following the entry of big companies in the zone, their partners and support productions follow suit, thus structuring the skeleton of the SME. In TEZ, there are 12 companies which are global leaders in their industries for whom 50 contractors have been engaged, the latter being smaller companies. Here we witness first-hand the symbiosis between big companies and SME which favors the business environment. In TEZ they meet aready-made solutions to essential issues, such as legislation, plot, connection to the networks of grid operators, infrastructure, services supplied on-the-spot. We witness it on a most practical level– for instance, a medium-sized business such as William Hughes from England, which has evidently found the best fit for its business here. They started 14 years ago with 20 employees upon 1000 m2 in Rakovski Industrial Zone. On present form, they have 200 employees, their investments come in excess of EUR 15 mill, and their buildings occupy upward of 5000 m2. Behind their entry in the economic zone this investor discerned safety, transparent and fixed environment, therefore it is their fifth time now that they go for one further expansion.

Of note should also be the price underpinning the entry of SME in TEZ.  If an investor is to place its investment ‘on the green,’ and if it makes its choice to enter the economic zone, the latter investment will be ca. 25 per cent lower as compared to the former. This gives all the story. The savings come due to the established infrastructure, the unencumbered rights of use or of title which have already been gone through, and as such, the investor saves on that procedure, plus, the cost of time which is at a premium for the business.

How many employees will TEZ need in 2018? Did you make any math, and how do you intend to assist investors to that point?

We are looking to the opening of ca. 2000 new jobs. Given the ambitious plans of the companies in this year, the number of the jobs may go even higher. Given just the companies with which we step on the final stage of negotiations, are going to create ca. 500 jobs.

 In an effort to assist investors in the supply of skilled manpower, Trakia Economic Zone Cluster started to equip a vocational training center with 10 theoretical study rooms plus 1 training courses room. There, staff will get vocationally trained or will make a change of training as the industry demand may be. Speaking of which, this is a new type of service which is to benefit investors in TEZ. The funds for the project are supplied via an EU project ‘Targeted Development of Cluster Information Assets’ under Contract no. BG16RFOP002-2.009-0045-C01, where the beneficiary is Trakia Economic Zone Cluster.

The funding comes under operational programme ‘Innovations and Competitiveness’ 2014-2020, Priority axis 2 ‘Entrepreneurship and Growth Capacity for SME’, under the procedure of ‘Cluster Development in Bulgaria.’ The grant amounts to BGN 1 243 790,56. 30% of the total value – BGN 510 376,95 is the co-funding provided by Trakia Economic Zone Cluster, and by the end of 2018 the center will be equipped with 211 computers and a modern software.

Since the end of last year, you have had initiatives in the agrarian sector.

November 2017, we have started in Trakia Economic Zone the first 16+1 Logistics Center and  E-commerce Booth for Agrarian and Further products – Plovdiv. In brief, 16+1 Logistics hub and Booth is the one-of-its-kind project in CEE aimed at promoting the possibilities extended by both economies of our countries, and enhancing the commercial exchange with China.  The initiative has come to be the result of the shared effort of the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Association for the Promotion of Agricultural Cooperation between China and the CEE Countries, and TEZ.

Interview taken by Daniela Arnaudova