Q: Łódź fell off an economic cliff edge in the 1990s after its mainstay, the textile industry, left the city. The past 10 years have seen a particularly remarkable economic recovery – to which factors do you attribute this turnaround?
A: I’m convinced that we are only at the beginning of our journey. In the process of city development, a decade is like one year in our lives because the inertia is much larger and it takes much longer for transformations to take place.
In my opinion, the crucial factor in the recovery is people – social and human capital. The city has now provided significant opportunities for this new generation of young people and then they started to pursue their dreams, so in a way we have made a full-circle comeback to the origins of the city – that is, pursuing your dreams.
We’ve been working a very long time for this success, but full results were not visible until three or four years ago. One of the most important things is the change in perception of the city – in addition to labour force, investors also look at how a city develops. They want a city that is great for living, so to that end we’ve made huge investments to restore the unique nature of Łódź especially in the city centre, and we’ve paid great attention to the transport system, which is the bloodstream of the city.
Q: Poland’s capital, Warsaw, is just an hour away. Why should investors choose Łódź over Warsaw?
A: It certainly is not an easy question, but I believe the proximity of Warsaw is actually a great advantage for Łódź, as Warsaw clearly cannot hold all businesses for the simple reason that fewer workers are available and wages are skyrocketing. And while we do not intend to compete with low wages, we certainly want to offer a great environment for workers – for instance, with our excellent transport links. The commute to Warsaw is getting terribly long and we should remember our priorities: that we work to have a life, and not live to work.
While I believe the headquarters of major companies will still be in the capital, I think companies are increasingly looking for locations within the proximity of Warsaw for their back offices or plants. Łódź offers much lower costs for opening and maintaining facilities. Another aspect is leisure and culture – I think that Łódź has become a fashionable city offering great opportunities for enjoying free time.
These aspects, if not an advantage, make Łódź a complementary city with respect to Warsaw. This is not only my vision but it is already a reality; this is what investors tell me on an everyday basis. This is what makes them decide to locate their plants here.
Q: The national government of Poland has been making headlines for proposing controversial judicial measures as well as projecting what many deem an increasingly populist narrative. Could this narrative impact the image and business environment of Poland and of Łódź?
A: It’s difficult for me to speak for the Polish government, as I have no influence over its actions. Personally, I’m an economic liberal. Obviously we can see a tide of protectionism throughout the world, but it is my deep belief that a free-market economy shall prevail.
While businesses certainly follow political changes, what is really important to them is sales volume and potential for growth. I think that as long as that is in place, they will still be attracted and continue their business as usual. National and international politics do affect us to a certain degree, but for me what is most important is to provide the best growth opportunities possible for businesses.
I am deeply convinced that Poland’s future is in the EU, because the EU is a major driver of development. However, some changes may be necessary – we need to depart from bureaucracy, and focus on workers and employers, who are the most important stakeholders from this perspective.