Business City: Warsaw

(Cara, inflight mag of Aer Lingus, June 2009)

Nearly two decades after Poland bid farewell to communism, Warsaw remains one of the top Central and Eastern European destinations for investors. Kit F. Chung explores business life in Warsaw.

The construction boom redefining Warsaw’s cityscape has slowed down. The mood, however, remains optimistic as the capital city of Poland is taking the global economic crisis in its stride. Warsaw is no stranger to adversity; almost 80% of the city was demolished during World War II and subsequent development was reined in by the Soviet Union. Since 1989, the capital has wasted no time in making up for lost opportunities.

As the country is a maturing economy with a population size of 38 million, opportunities abound in almost every sector, chiefly in construction and engineering services, but also ranging from retail, life sciences to environmental projects.

“We believe there are opportunities for Irish businesses here,” says Ms. Karen Cohalan, the director of Enterprise Ireland in Poland. EI also fulfils the role of the Commercial Section of the Irish Embassy assisting Irish businesses to develop in the Polish market. “Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 has made it a lot easier for SME’s to export to the market. There has been a proliferation of partnerships and joint-ventures with Polish companies, using the commercial know-how from the Irish, and local contacts and knowledge from the Polish side.”

A key driver is the European 2012 Football Championship, which is likely to see Warsaw hosting the opening matching. About one third of the €15-18bn EU infrastructural funding will end up in the capital for the development of stadiums, bridges and public transportation upgrades. A further €2.5bn in private investment is expected for the building of new hotels and facilities to cater for the surge in visitor numbers. Poland has €67bn EU Structural Fund at its disposal over a five year period (from 2008). While other countries are facing recession, Poland’s projected GDP growth is often cited at 1.5–2%.

Most key global players are present in Warsaw. Irish representatives include CRH, Smurfit, Mercury Engineering and Project Management Group. “Generally speaking, if you want to be near to the decision making bodies, the center is still in Warsaw,” says Ms. Cohalan, explaining the case for setting up shop in the political capital. Numerous CEE headquarters are located here since Warsaw is viewed as a jumping-off point to markets further east.

Bureaucracy is a concern. However, the harmonisation of regulations with EU laws has made life easier. Ease of conducting business is enhanced by state of the art electronic banking systems. Language is not a hurdle; there is an ungrudging acceptance of English as the business tongue. Among the young, aside from mastering English, many speak other European languages. The workforce lives up to its reputation as hardworking, flexible and highly skilled, whereby a large percentage has a master’s degree or two. Labour cost is lower compared to the west.

Poles tend to be formal. Though the young ones quickly go on first name basis, the older generation still addresses colleagues by surnames or titles like Mr. President. When meeting Polish counterparts, do not assume the man is the key decision-maker. It is not uncommon that a Mrs. Director authorises the deal. In any case, shake hands with the ladies first, as this is the cultural practice. Business card swapping is routine. Equally routine is for Polish entities to have websites and they expect your calling card to bear a www address.

After business, Warsaw has no shortage of recreational distractions. The rapidly changing city is listed on the Lonely Planet’s 2009 top destinations to explore. The Old Town is faithfully rebuilt, earning it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gone are the days when there were only a handful of restaurants; every major international flavour can be had in style, without breaking the bank. Clubs, concerts and operas fill the nightlife agenda. Warsaw is well on its way to take its place as a major hub for business and pleasure.

FACT FILE

Population: 38 million (Poland), 2 million (Warsaw)

Currency: Złotchy (€1 = 4.5 zł)

GDP 2007: €308.6bn.

GDP growth 2007: 6.6%

Business Life in Warsaw

Foreigners living in Warsaw appreciate the safety and quality of life in the capital. Affordable apartment rental, short commuting time and a rewarding social life are the main attractions.

Aside from the year-round functions organised by various chambers of commerce and special interest groups, there are also unofficial channels. The city’s Irish pubs is one. On Facebook, the “Professionals in Warsaw Every Wednesday” group is another example. The support system, both official and unofficial, in business and social life is what makes foreigners happy to work and play in Warsaw.

Business District

The Palace of Culture, the city’s Socialist Realism landmark, is generally regarded as the center point. Within 2km radius of the palace are some of the most prestigious commercial addresses such as the Metropolitan (designed by Norman Foster), the Rondo One and Złote Tarasy (Golden Terraces). Companies not requiring a city centre mailing address have a plethora of business parks in surrounding districts like Mokotów, Ochota and Ursynów.

Where to Stay

Meridien Bristol www.lemeridien.com/warsaw Located on the Royal Route, beyond the Art Nouveau façade, the old world charm has been enjoyed by a string of international Who’s Who including Queen EII and Bob Dylan.

Marriott marriott.com/wawpl Situated opposite the Palace of Culture, the interiors were recently given a thorough overhaul, resulting in spanking new and luxurious rooms with panoramic city views.

Dining Out

Ale Gloria alegloria.pl. Recommended in the Michelin 2008 guide, the fairytale visuals and updated Polish dishes are the designs of Magda Gessler, a top Polish restaurateur. Duck breast in rose sauce served with spicy strawberry represents their panache of marrying fruits to meat. Three-course meal €40.

Conferencing

The city’s hotels are geared for business travellers. Under the same roof are meeting and conference rooms that can take in anything from 10 to above 2,000 participants. The Marriott Hotel is an efficient old hand in this department. Also centrally located in the newcomer Hilton Warsaw Hotel & Convention Centre (warsaw.hilton.com). Meetings can also be conducted at 19th century palaces and villas, including the Sobański Palace (Tel: +4822 523 6665. kprb.pl).

Wi-fi

The upmarket hotels charge for wi-fi while the mid-level ones usually don’t. Most restaurants and cafés throw in unlimited access for the price of a coffee.

Resources

Enterprise Ireland enterprise-ireland.com

The Irish government’s lead agency for the promotion of Irish companies in export markets. In Poland, it also carries out the role of the Commercial Section of the Irish Embassy.

Polish Agency for Information and Foreign Investment paiz.gov.pl

PAIiIZ is a government body facilitating foreign investment in Poland.

Irish Chamber of Commerce icc.org.pl

An independent, non-profit organisation promoting Irish-Polish trade.

American Chamber of Commerce amcham.com.pl

Founded in 1990, the AmCham holds regular seminars on trade topics relevant for the foreign business community in general.

(Cara, inflight mag of Aer Lingus, June 2009)

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