Antoaneta Bares, Executive Director of the NCIZ: The professional realization of young people is a priority for the NCIZ

Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte has 3 finalized contracts this year, which have been signed. These are projects worth over BGN 6 million, said Antoaneta Bares, executive director of the National Company Industrial Zones (NCIZ), in an interview for the show "Good day, Bulgaria" on Radio "Focus".

Host: The past year has been full of challenges in both health and economic terms. How was business affected? Our guest is Antoaneta Bares, Executive Director of National Company Industrial Zones, good afternoon.

Antoaneta Bares: Good afternoon. I am glad to be your guest at the end of the year, so we can really take into account the difficulty and complexity of a year filled with many challenges.

Host: How do you assess the activities of the NCIZ during the year?

Antoaneta Bares: Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte, which is our priority project, has 3 finalized contracts this year that have been signed. These are projects for over BGN 6 million, opening over 10 new jobs. Many of the investors with whom we had started talks at the end of 2019 delayed the negotiations, but by the end of 2020 all of them restored the negotiations. It's normal: stress, the pandemic, people wanted to know how their business would run and the prospects. Enlargement requires consideration of many factors and one of them is the external environment.

Two weeks ago, one of our new investors received a certificate from the Ministry of Economy - the Danish company JYSK, which invests more than 200 million in its logistics center in Sofia-Bozhurishte, entered a new stage of its development, one year after its official opening. The distribution center of Bozhurishte started delivering online orders to Bulgarian customers, before that, the orders were delivered by the company's distribution center in Radonsk, Poland.

In 2019 we had concluded significant contracts. Currently, construction and installation works are underway in the Bozhurishte zone, where work has not stopped. This year we spent a lot of time on the construction of the projects, not only us, but also the companies that chose to invest in the NCIZ projects. We have inquiries; there is interest. Of course, it is never what we want, because we always want more, but the interest has not stopped. We are glad that at the end of the year, those who delayed their negotiations after the announcement of the pandemic actually resumed them. This means that things will start to return to normal, but it will take time. So, there are investors who have started to expand their projects this year.

Host: Given the circumstances, this is extremely positive news.

Antoaneta Bares: Yes, it is positive, because when someone expands, it means that he feels good, at the place where he established his business.

Host: And secure.

Antoaneta Bares: And secure. The extension shows that things have happened and this is positive for the company.

Host: What was the year like for your newest zone - Industrial zone Zagore?

Antoaneta Bares: Negotiations with investors started there. We have 3 contracts; we are currently in negotiations with another investor. The infrastructure in zone Zagore is fully built and put into operation. This is the first zone in which we started to conclude contracts with investors after the full construction of the infrastructure. We really see how fast things happen, because when an investor comes and sees the built infrastructure and the divided terrains, he knows what to expect, he sees what he will get where he will realize the investment. In this regard, we are working hard to improve the infrastructure of the zone in Bozhurishte. This year we have an extremely large project - for over BGN 20 million, we are building 4 streets, plus several small local ones. So, investors in Bozhurishte have something to see. At the beginning of the next year, we expect everything to be built. The first layers of asphalt are currently being laid.

The year was very successful for us; we had a lot of work that will give us a basis for attracting new investments.

Host: In November 2019, your Fast-Tracking Success initiative ranked in the top three in the international competition European Awards for the Promotion of Entrepreneurship, organized by the European Commission. This took place at an official ceremony in Helsinki, Finland, during the annual Assembly of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. Is this project still working?

Antoaneta Bares: Of course. Young people are interested in finding a job with us, in the industrial zones we are looking for highly qualified specialists from all fields: engineers, economists, financiers, marketing specialists, lawyers. In today's dynamic world, the issue of professional realization of the young generation is both a priority and a challenge for every country and every company. Our company strives to create conditions for young people to be able to quickly and easily cooperate with companies, easily find contact with them, and vice versa - companies can easily reach young people looking for work to choose quality professionals. For a company that invests, especially in high-tech industries, one of the most important things is finding a qualified workforce. Young people, in addition to starting a new job, are interested in the prospects for development in the company - not only to start, but also how you will feel there, what are the opportunities for development and career growth. In this regard, our project is aimed at shortening distance and cooperation. This cooperation naturally goes through the universities as well. I think the benefit is for everyone. On the one hand, it is much easier for investors to enter the university with our contacts, to receive information about the graduating students, about those who are studying, about the specialties, etc. They can give recommendations in the design of the programs themselves; they can stimulate students with scholarships.

On the other hand, universities, seeing the demand of companies, receive feedback to adapt programs, so students are prepared for real work and have walked part of the way. This means that they have participated in master classes, in internships, in different groups of the enterprises themselves, in which they carry out certain research activities. Then for them adaptation is much easier. We had set a goal this year to make master classes in which, we, from the company, as well as our investors lead lecture courses at some of the universities. Higher education had embraced the idea, but due to online learning, it has not yet started. We strongly hope that we will be able to implement it next year; none of the parties have given up this intention.

This year, we had planned Open Days in our zone in Bozhurishte, so that representatives of all universities, with transport provided, can visit the enterprises, to see what is at the entrance as raw material and what comes out, as well as, all the stages: engineering and financial activity, as well as, how this product finally reaches the end customer.

Host: As far as I understand, this is the essence of the Fast Tracking Success initiative?

Antoaneta Bares: That's right.

Host: How specifically do you help investors to find a skilled workforce?

Antoaneta Bares: We have memoranda with nearly 10 universities and vocational high schools, among them are: Sofia University, UNWE, NBU, Technical University-Sofia, Higher School of Transport, Angel Kanchev University of Ruse, Shumen University, Academy of Economics - Svishtov, Henry Ford Vocational High School and others. Based on these memoranda, we constantly receive information from universities about the number of students in different specialties, we track statistics of the number of students in 3rd, 4th year and in what specialties they study, what are the master's programs. When an investor comes to us and says that he is looking for specialists, such as, in the field of logistics, we say: The Higher School of Transport trains students in this specialty. There are currently this many students in 3rd year, this many students in 4th year, bachelor's degree graduates in this and that specialty. If there is interest, we contact the university directly. They immediately conduct a survey among students, prepare a list, which is presented for the investor. This shortens the relationship between the student looking for a job and the investor.

Host: Do students have the opportunity to work in your industrial zones? Do you have any specific examples?

Antoaneta Bares: Yes. I will give an example with a company that operates in our zone in Ruse, in 2004, and has quite serious ties to the University of Ruse. 12 of their students already work in the company. The company also employs students who have not graduated. They even participated in the design and development of a product that was sold. They have made an 80-ton self-propelled crane, for which they have orders for the next 5 years - 10 cranes have been ordered so far. This is a unique chance: to participate in the development, to see the steps, to walk the path and all this to be broken through what was learnt at the university. The project is extremely successful, and of course, we are working on it with enthusiasm.

Host: Usually businesses complain about the lack of a good enough relationship with universities, but how can they really partner?

Antoaneta Bares: Our position is that business must be actively involved in the curriculum development process, but there must be a systematic exchange of information. Thus, universities will have a real idea of ​​the needs of business, both from specific staff and from specific knowledge. I think that this will allow more effective planning of the programs offered by the universities. This interaction will reduce the gap between supply and demand.

Host: Mrs. Bares, what is your wish for the next year?

Antoaneta Bares: I want to wish all your listeners, all investors who want to develop their business in Bulgaria, happy and peaceful holidays. Be healthy, have faith that things will fall in their place.

Discipline and hard work, one achieves what one wants to do. Pursue your dreams! Hopefully next year will be healthier, stronger and more successful.