Antoaneta Bares, Executive Director of the NCIZ, to Stroitel newspaper: The infrastructural construction of the NCIZ zones is our priority for 2021.

- Mrs. Bares, in issue 21 of the State Gazette of 12.03.2021, the new Law on Industrial Parks was promulgated. How will it affect the development of these zones?

- The law was necessary because of the regulation of industrial zones - not only public but also private. For me, it is important for the investors, no matter which type they have chosen, to have good conditions for development and stability of their business.

Before the law came into force in Bulgaria, there was a lack of full regulation of industrial parks. It existed in fragments in various regulations. Whereas, this law gives a complete picture - a legal definition of the concept of industrial park, the order and conditions for its construction, development and management. In order to stimulate the development of an attractive environment for the realization of the attracted investments, as well as for their retention and expansion, it is necessary to provide support for the industrial development by the state.

The purpose of the law is for investors to receive more serious help and more incentives. Whilst on the other hand, to regulate the work of the operator of the industrial zone, as is our role as operator.

The creation of industrial zones today is not a current trend, but an economic necessity for both regional cities and smaller villages. Subsequently, there will be regulation.

The regulation of the terms and conditions for the delimitation of territories with the status of an industrial park, for the purpose of attracting local and foreign investments and the transformation of these territories into a mechanism for increasing the competitiveness of the economy, are activities that did not fall within the scope of the existing regulations as fully and completely. The new law regulates not only the structural, but also the technical and organizational conditions for the creation, construction, functioning and development of the indicated separate territories.

-Could you explain the most important points in the law and why it was necessary to adopt it? What measures are planned to stimulate the industrial parks?

- The law on industrial parks aims to create appropriate conditions for the implementation of state policies in the field of industrialization, which is to correspond to the demands of business and industrial development, by creating a regulatory framework that provides clear criteria for the construction of industrial parks, meeting the expectations of the business, as well as for creating a favorable and competitive environment for investing in Bulgaria.

One of the main advantages of the law is that it regulates the nature of ownership of the infrastructure on the territory of the respective park. Aims are focused on the development and the responsibility for the technical infrastructure and the quality of the services provided by it on the territory of the park to be primarily to the owner of the park, and not to the local authorities and the various system operators. This is important, both from the point of view of potential investors in industrial parks and from the point of view to the commitment of the municipalities, in which such parks will be built. In this way, business is relieved of the obligations related to the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, which will give it the opportunity to direct its resources in the implementation of its investment programs.

- What was the role of the NCIZ in the preparation of the Law for Industrial Parks?

- I was a member of the working group that was formed in connection with the drafting of the bill, which was in a very broad format and included representatives of various administrations involved in the activities regulated in the project, as well as, the representatives of the people involved in the management of industrial parks and zones. As a representative of NCIZ EAD, I had the opportunity to contribute ideas and suggestions that come from my work and the problems we face every day in one of the largest zones in the country. One of the focuses was to concentrate efforts on creating a legal definition of the term industrial park, in line with its differentiation from other sites. For me, the most significant contribution was to the formulation of the texts governing the ownership and construction of the technical infrastructure of the park, as well as, the conditions that existing parks should meet, in order to be able to bring their activities in line with the requirements of the new law.

- How does the company work in a pandemic? Has the COVID-19 crisis slowed down the development of industrial zones at home?

- The Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly affected industrial zones

as well. At the beginning of the crisis in 2020, there was some astonishment on the part of investors, but then things calmed down and went back on track. It was as if investors needed time to update their business plans and bring them into line with the crisis, to adapt to the new realities in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are currently continuing to meet with investors who want to do business in the industrial zones of the NCIZ. For "Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte" we are negotiating with companies that produce solar panels and organic products. Whilst another company, that is interested, works in the freezing of fruits and vegetables using innovative technology. These are just some of the meetings we hold. Therefore, I can say that there is still continued interest in the NCIZ zones.

One of the main concerns of the NCIZ during the Covid-19 pandemic was to continue our activities in the safest possible way for our employees and partners, following the recommendations and regulations. We have participated and continue to participate in various online meetings, where we present our activities. Our employees represented the company during online meetings and forums, such as the Bulgarian-Kazakhstani Business Forum; presentation of enterprises from the Perm region, Russia, organized by the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Bulgaria; presentation of the Bulgarian innovation and startup ecosystem in front of the largest innovation and entrepreneurship center in Europe UnternehmerTUM - "Meet the Bulgarian Innovators", which was organized by the Executive Agency for Promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises (BSMEPA), the Office for Trade and Economic Affairs in Munich, and the Bulgarian Startup Association (BESCO); meeting of the Euroclub at the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and many others.

- The NCIZ manages seven operating industrial zones. How are they developing and what are the challenges facing them this year?

- NCIZ manages a total of 12 projects in the country, with a total area of ​​over 8,000,000 sq.m. Active zones are "Economic Zone Sofia-Bozhurishte", "Industrial and Logistics Park Burgas", Industrial Zone Vidin, Free Zone Ruse, Industrial Zone Svilengrad, Industrial Zone Zagore, Transit Trade Zone - Varna.

"Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte" continues to develop. In 2020 OPTIX AD opened its production base with 14 guaranteed jobs. The company design, constructs, manufactures and markets its own range of thermal and night products, day sights and integrated systems for strategic surveillance and security. In its portfolio, the company offers innovative solutions for the sectors of defense, security, nature conservation, sport hunting optics, medicine and industry. The company is the only Bulgarian company that manufactures the entire range of special optics used in the army and police in Bulgaria. At the beginning of this year, in February, the Bulgarian company Betelgius Ltd. turned the first sod of the construction of the company in the “Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte”. The company is an established supplier of labels and labeling equipment and specializes in providing complete solutions in the field of primary and secondary coding, marking, labeling, packaging and product tracking.

We can't help but rejoice, because both companies are producers, and both companies are Bulgarian. Bulgaria must have well-developed industrial zones in order to be able to attract high-tech companies. Therefore, in order to ensure the infrastructural connectivity of the “Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte” and to facilitate traffic to and from the zone, we have started procedures for designing and building the new road connection along Tsaritsa Yoana Blvd. to the “Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte”. After meetings and talks, the NCIZ signed an agreement with RIA. We expect the Sofia Municipal Council to discuss this agreement at the next meeting and also to sign it. This large-scale project can be launched immediately afterwards. In the "Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte" continues the construction of road infrastructure under the public procurement, which we conducted - it is a public procurement for the conclusion of a framework agreement for the construction of the overall infrastructure of the zones. Infrastructure security is important for our investors and the development of their business.

In 2020, we sold land in Bozhurishte to ESO, which must build a substation to provide additional capacity for the companies that are there and in operation. In this way, we will create better conditions for our investors, which is important to us.

There is a trend - some of our investors are expanding their production. They want to buy land from us again - for example, the company Reisswolf.

During the pandemic last year, the Danish company JYSK, which has invested nearly BGN 200 million in its logistics center in the “Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte”, entered a new stage of its development - one year after its official opening in Bozhurishte started delivering online orders to Bulgarian customers. Prior to the official start of the process in Bozhurishte, the online orders of Bulgarian customers were delivered by the Distribution Center in Radomsko, Poland. So the companies that operate in our park in Bozhurishte are also developing, and that can only make us happy.

"Industrial and Logistics Park - Burgas" is also developing very well. There we partner very successfully with the municipality of Burgas. At the end of March this year we had a meeting with the Minister of Economy, Lachezar Borisov, where we discussed the expansion of the zone. At a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the financing of public municipal infrastructure was approved under the Investment Promotion Act (IPA) for the construction of elements of municipal road infrastructure in the industrial zone "North", Burgas. Funds in the amount of up to BGN 1,670,558 will be provided from the budget of the Ministry of Economy of the Municipality of Burgas, and the infrastructure will be built in connection with the implementation of an investment project certified by the IPA in the municipality. The development of "Industrial and Logistics Park - Burgas" enters a new stage. There is a new industrial zone "South", which is located near the road junction Burgas - Sredets - Sozopol. Its area is 600 dacares. There is already interest from companies in the fields of productions, such as textile and metal industry, medical industry, as well as in the manufacturing of electrical installations and air conditioning. At the meeting with minister Borissov it became clear that the development of the zone continues with the contribution of another 150 decares, which will actually be the third phase of development of "Industrial and Logistics Park Burgas".

Since last year, the infrastructure of the “Industrial Zone Zagore”, which is located in Stara Zagora, is one hundred percent built and already has Act 15. It is a joint project of the National Company Industrial Zones and the Municipality of Stara Zagora. There are two final contracts and negotiations are underway with two companies involved in various industries. One is in the food industry.

- Will there be EU funding for the implementation of projects related to industrial parks in the period 2021 - 2027?

- Such financing is envisaged under the Recovery and Sustainability Plan and the parameters are to be specified. In pursuit of this goal, it provides for measures and reforms that will make a significant contribution to restoring the potential for growth and development of the economy, with a key focus on smart industry, which includes a program of public support for the development of industrial parks and improving their infrastructural connectivity.

- What will be the priorities of the NCIZ by the end of 2021?

- Our priorities are related to the infrastructure of our industrial zones throughout the country. Industrial areas are an effective mechanism for attracting investment. That is why we will continue to work for the attraction of high-tech Bulgarian and foreign companies. We also work for the positioning of strategic investors in our developing zones.

- NCIZ has a program to assist investors in recruitment. How do you assess its effect?

- The Fast-Tracking Success program was launched under my initiative in 2017. It is aimed at accelerated professional development of young staff at universities and vocational high schools. The initiative aims to provide permanent employment and internships in foreign and Bulgarian companies in the industrial zones of the NCIZ.

Based on conversations with investors and university rectors, we know exactly what specialists are in demand and what is offered; thus, we help both sides. We have formed memoranda of cooperation with nearly 10 higher education institutions and vocational high schools.

- What do they mean?

- Universities invite us to their career forums. We had an idea to hold master classes as investors and experts from the NCIZ can give lectures to students. But for now, this idea has been suspended because of the pandemic situation. In addition, we had talks to make an ‘open company day’ in the “Economic zone Sofia-Bozhurishte” for students. In this way they will be able to see how things really happen. But for now, this idea is waiting to be realized because of Covid-19.

- NCIZ also has a memorandum with the Chamber of Builders in Bulgaria. Last year we managed to make a very successful and high-level round table in Varna. Where do you see opportunities to organize such events? In what directions can the cooperation with the Chamber of Builders in Bulgaria be deepened?

- The round table in Varna was really successful and useful. The NCIZ is always open to participating in such initiatives. They are important in terms of positioning the company and finding strategic investors. In this way, with the Chamber of Builders we can both be useful to each other.

- In April, “Stroitel” newspaper turns 12 years old. What will you wish to the media team?

- “Stroitel” newspaper is a media that has proven itself over time and gained its authority. I wish your team to be healthy first. And to continue to be a factor in the Bulgarian economy, and of course - more readers!