Q: What is your economic vision for Thessaloniki, and what role does foreign investment play in that?
A: Thessaloniki needs to gain back the prominent role it once had as a hub of commerce and economic activity for the wider area of south-east Europe. The city must regain its position as the financial centre of the region and reclaim its economic influence over the Balkan interior.
There are certain preconditions that have to be met before the city can do this. First and foremost, basic infrastructure, the port and airport, should be developed further in order to guarantee local, regional and wider economic activity and development. [Currently] both function as private enterprises under state supervision, allowing investments which will open the way for further expansion and, more importantly, will bring about competitiveness for Thessaloniki and the wider region of northern Greece.
Another necessary step has been the re-establishment of good relations with neighbouring countries – Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Turkey and Israel. We worked with other mayors of the wider region in the context of our ‘city-diplomacy’ and have managed to forge closer ties with all our neighbours.
Our efforts were rewarded; our city became known world-widely as a tourist destination. Overnight stays in the city’s hotels sky-rocketed – from around 1m in 2010 to around 3m in 2017 – and 25 new boutique hotels were created during the past few years. At the same time, foreign investments were attracted either in transportation projects or in the real estate market or even in the energy sector.
Q: What are you doing to improve Thessaloniki’s business environment?
A: Greece suffers from ever-changing institutional and law provisions and accordingly from an ever-changing tax legislation, while at the same time there is an intense problem with state red tape.
However, and unlike the stereotype or the expectations about Greece, there is currently political stability in the country. The current government will be the first in a long period to complete – as it seems at this point – its electoral term. On top of that, government and main opposition party agree on the basic priorities which affect the economy, that is EU and eurozone participation and economic stability along with the effort to reduce the public debt and transform the economy to a competitive and extrovert one.
There is, of course, the challenge of restoring international investors’ trust towards the country by proceeding with necessary reforms.
Greece is right now a unique opportunity for targeted investments. Low labour cost and the depression of the crisis have brought to the surface huge investment opportunities in a place that retains its natural beauty, wealthy resources and highly skilled workforce. Tourism, energy sector, real estate, logistics, transportation and much of the service sector are some of the good opportunities Greece offers to investors.
Q: What are the city's advantages and main opportunities for investment?
A: Thessaloniki has been the commercial and cultural crossroad between east and west for more than 23 centuries, and is a city of multicultural character with a unique cultural reserve and with a great gastronomic tradition.
It’s also a city with a lively educational and research community, with several research institutions and innovation-led initiatives, as well as with four public and several private universities and educational institutions where around 150.000 young people study, while there is also a very vivid start-uppers community. There are exceptionally well trained human resources with low labour costs. All these encouraged Deloitte & Touche to decide to set up its hub here in Thessaloniki.
At the same time, it’s the second largest port of Greece but the most important regarding the Balkan routes of commerce. Combined with the airport, and taking into consideration its location, Thessaloniki can become the logistics centre of the wider area.