Located in eastern Poland just across the border from Belarus, Biała Podlaska lies on the frontier of the EU. It is a geopolitically delicate position as tensions flair over migrants and as the West keeps a wary eye on Belarus’s giant ally, Russia.
The city’s intersectional location also presents a logistical advantage, however, which it hopes to parlay into an investment opportunity, boosted by a recently opened economic zone.
“The city has great potential, both in terms of tourism and production,” says its mayor, Dariusz Stefaniuk. “The location on an attractive trade route, close to the EU border, may make Biała Podlaska a real economic power.”
Biała Podlaska is plugged into the road network by National Road 2 (which is also part of the international road E30), two key regional roads (DW811, DW812) and National Railway Line 2.
“I see a chance for our competitiveness through our good location and our attractive offering in the form of the economic zone. It will create opportunities for businesses, for example, in the form of lower taxes. Biała Podlaska is also a city with a beautiful and colourful 500-year tradition, which may turn out to be significant for foreign investors,” says Mr Stefaniuk.
With just under 60,000 inhabitants, Biała Podlaska was founded on the Krzna river in 1481. A garrison town in the late 19th and first part of the 20th century, and a hub for military aeroplane production, in the postwar era Biała Podlaska has focused on modernising its economy while preserving its historical features.
Like many Polish cities, Biała Podlaska has grappled with a brain-drain problem as its young people seek economic opportunities in the capital, Warsaw, or western Europe. However, Mr Stefaniuk hopes that if plans to attract more companies bear fruit in the shape of improved job prospects and better living conditions, this could tempt many economic exiles back.
Biała Podlaska has signed up to be the pilot city for a national housing development programme called Mieszkanie Plus (Home Plus), which is intended to help create a stock of good, affordable accommodation for low-income workers.
“[Brain drain] is a problem not only of our region but of the whole country,” says Mr Stefaniuk. “Yet I would like to underline that we want to create the living conditions for our residents so that they can be educated in a large city and return to Biała Podlaska to find interesting and well-paid jobs. The [Mieszkanie Plus] state programme will provide the residents with accommodation in a very good location. We are the first in Poland to have implemented it.”
Foreign investment will have a key role to play in creating jobs. While so far it has flown under the radar of many international companies, Biała Podlaska is hoping to change this with its location, combined with the new advantages offered by the economic zone.
“We see our greatest opportunity in the logistics industry. We also have great potential in the wood industry,” says Mr Stefaniuk. “Thanks to the recently opened economic zone, we can provide an opportunity [for international companies] to conduct business activity here.”