An Italian finding themselves lost in Opole, a picturesque southern Polish city of 126,000 people, would probably feel right at home. Pole not only has a city hall inspired by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but within view of it stands a slew of restaurants with names such as Don Vito, Venezia and Rzymskie Wakacje (Polish for Roman Holidays), suggesting that local diners are as happy to be served ravioli as they are pierogis.
Locals say that these Italian connections are a coincidence. There was no coincidence, however, when a frozen lasagna plant run by Pasta Food, a joint venture between ready-meal producers French Stefano Toselli and Belgian Ter Beke, recently opened in the city.
According to Maciej Wajs, the plant manager, one of the factors that sealed the deal for Opole was its location by the A1 highway, which runs from the city of Gdansk in northern Poland towards the border with the Czech Republic in the south of the country, and the A4 highway, which forms a part of the pan-European route spanning from Calais in France right through to Kazakhstan. “[This was] not a small matter for us given that our products have 30-day sell-by dates and Pasta Food sells its products across central and eastern Europe,” says Mr Wajs.
Such excellent road links to the rest of Europe played a major role when American food giant Kraft Foods, now known as Mondelēz International, was looking for a production site for its chocolate and chewing gum factories. Monika Czupryna, the plant manager at Mondelēz’s chewing gum factory in Skarbimierz, a town some 45 kilometres west of Opole, says: “Locating our production sites in Skarbimierz, [with its close proximity] to A4 highway, made a perfect sense for us.” She adds that 95% of the goods produced in Skarbimierz are exported, with the main markets being the UK, Ireland, France, Denmark, Spain, South Africa and China. Both Mondelēz factories are located in special economic zones that offer 35% corporate income tax exemption.
Food processing is only one of several sectors to attract foreign investors to the region, according to Roland Wrzeciono, the director of investment promotion agency Opole Investor and Exporter Assistance Centre. “We have a great potential in the BPO, chemical, furniture and metal sectors and more and more companies are interested in investing in our automotive sector,” he says.
One factor that may count against Opole in the eyes of investors is its relatively small size. However, even this is being used to the city and its surrounding area's advantage. “Opolskie region is the smallest in Poland, but we make sure that investment opportunities can be found across the region and our small size mobilises us to work harder to be noticed by investors,” says Tomasz Kostus, the deputy marshall of the Opolskie voivodeship, the administrative region where Opole is situated. And the likes of Ter Beke, Stefano Toselli, Mondelēz and Pasta Food prove that this small Polish area is doing a good job of making itself noticed.