With its picturesque Old Town standing against the backdrop of the Pohorje Mountains, Maribor resembles many other picturesque Alpine locations. Yet the history of this Slovenian city is far more turbulent than might appear. The city was the site of violent border disputes between Austrians and Slovenians during the First World War and has the sad distinction of being the most heavily bombed Yugoslav city in the Second World War. In 2012, the city was the site of anti-establishment protests that spread throughout Slovenia.
Taking over the mayoral post soon after the protests, Andrej Fistravec, a former university professor turned political activist, set out to restore citizens’ trust in local authorities. Finding foreign investors willing to come to Maribor was high on the mayoral agenda.
“At the very beginning of my first term in office I set up a group for the economy and integrated the economic and crafts chambers of our city,” says Mr Fistravec. “Their main goal is to attract foreign investors so that they can have a comprehensive service in one place. Foreign investors do not have a lot of experience with bureaucracy and our business culture, so I think that this is where the municipality’s primary role begins.”
Although Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia, it has a population of only 95,000. While the city’s limited size and consequently small labour pool might be a hard sell to investors, Mr Fistravec says the city compensates by being located at the crossroads leading to major trading hubs in central Europe and the Balkans. “It literally takes you just a few minutes of driving to enter Austria, less than an hour to get to Hungary or Croatia, and a mere two-and-a-half hours to reach Italy,” says Mr Fistravec. On top of that, the city has well developed rail and air links with charter and regular flights to Europe and the Middle East, he adds.
Will all this in mind, Maribor might be a good match for investors looking to launch transportation and logistics projects, according to Mr Fistravec. The city is also eyeing investments into the automotive and chemical sectors with companies such as German chemicals and consumer products giant Henkel and DuraBus, a Chinese vehicle manufacturer, already investing in Maribor.
Yet while these investments might look promising, the same cannot be said about Maribor’s track record in attracting crossborder projects. As fDi Markets data shows, since 2003 the city attracted only nine projects. By comparison, Slovenian capital Ljubljana attracted 67 greenfield projects over the same period. Undeterred, Mr Fistravec believes that the city offers investors more than just picturesque scenery and newly found stability. “Maribor is not only a city of past opportunities, but remains a city of opportunities for today and for tomorrow,” he says.