Industrial zones are not typically considered desirable places to live. Given that their primary purpose is usually to bring a new lease of life to a struggling area, they tend to be located in economically disadvantaged areas, far from big city amenities.
However, it is amenities – such as shops, cinemas, schools and gyms – that prospective investors often look for when scouting for a new location, knowing that they will have to relocate senior management and perhaps other staff to the new location, at least initially, to help launch the new operation.
While it is only a short drive from the Russian cities of Yelabuga and Naberezhnye Chelny – which have 70,000 and 510,000 residents, respectively, and all the amenities associated with settlements of this size – the Special Economic Zone Alabuga (SEZ Alabuga) was, for a time, a hard sell to foreign investors, because of a scarcity of amenities in the immediate vicinity.
The situation changed this year though, when in September the SEZ Alabuga-funded Tri Medvedya (which in English translates as 'three bears') complex accepted its first tenants. Located a few kilometres from the zone, Tri Medvedya is a development of two-storey houses with rental prices starting at $1700, and the feel of a US suburb, against the backdrop of a Russian pine forest.
“We get enquiries every day. In a 500-kilometre radius there is no similar [complex],” says Alexandr Fomin, who looks after the project on behalf of SEZ Alabuga.
Apart from houses, the complex also consists of recreational facilities, including a pond and sauna, as well as sporting facilities with tennis courts and a football pitch. Next year, Tri Medvedya will also gain a community centre, which will include a restaurant, banquet hall, bar, pharmacy and a shop. Additionally, residents will have access to the gym and pool at a nearby international school, when the facilities open later this year.
The school itself is intended to be a major draw for those considering relocating to the zone. It has the capacity for 250 pupils and English is the primary language of communication. The school is designed to teach the International Baccaleurate syllabus, a highly regarded curriculum for primary and secondary teaching. The school opened in September, and currently accepts pupils between the ages of three and six.
Right next to the school, a boarding house is currently being constructed, and, when completed in 2015, it will be able to accommodate 40 children.
“At the moment in our school we have 36 pupils, but the situation is changing every day. We also have five native English speakers. But we intend on growing, and having older children here, too. We definitely have room for that,” says David O'Brien, the head teacher of the school.
Tri Medvedya as a whole is likely to grow as well, as demand for houses as well as for studio apartments available to rent nearby is encouraging. "A month on from opening, we have already found 12 tenants for our houses. The demand for studios is really high as well. We soon expect to see a mixed Russian and foreign community here," says Mr Fomin.