Once part of Prussia, the city of Olsztyn, while generally considered part of eastern Poland, is in fact located more westward than Warsaw. It was known by its Prussian name of Allenstein for much of its life, until it was handed over to Poland at the conclusion of World War Two and its historic Polish name of Olsztyn was restored. Perhaps because of this relatively recent name rebranding it is among the many Polish cities that lack widespread recognition outside of Poland and its immediate neighbourhood. 

But it does enjoy a pleasant regional reputation as a verdant spot, offering natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. Located in a forested region known as the 'green lungs of Poland', in the Warmia and Mazury voivodeship, of which it is the administrative capital, Olsztyn has more than a dozen lakes within its boundaries. Forests occupy more than 20% of the city’s space and lakes 8%. 

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Beauty spot

“Our town is beautiful,” says the mayor of Olsztyn, Piotr Grzymowicz, proudly. 

The rustic beauty of the tree-lined lakes is a draw for locals and tourists, as well as competitors in watersports, and is a source of pride. But the city is now making use of EU structural funds to put in new tourism and leisure infrastructure in order to up its game, while protecting natural areas. “We are going to invest 100m [$27m] zlotys and out of this amount 50% are EU funds. We also have an 'entrepreneurship project' that encourages investors to build hotels, spas and health services,” says Mr Grzymowicz. 

A speedboat tour of Olsztyn’s largest lake, the four-square-kilometres Ukiel (also known as Krzywe), reveals new boat mooring installations, hotels, restaurants, sports grounds and marinas, designed from natural materials that blend seamlessly into the surrounding sand and foliage. This approach is testament to local efforts to meld its natural assets with investment in other segments of the economy. 

“Our region is seen as a tourist destination, but we are open to investment in other sectors,” says the marshal of Warmia and Mazury, Gustaw Marek Brzezin. The largest investor and employer in the area, in fact, is in heavy industry rather than tourism: French tyre company Michelin, which has its Poland headquarters in Olsztyn, employs about 4000 people on an impressive two-square-kilometres campus in the city. Regional specialisations include the so-called water economy (which includes tourism and spas, yacht production and water technology), wood and wood processing, and high-quality food production, while the city of Olsztyn is also focused heavily on business process and IT outsourcing, as well as shared service centres.

Brains to match

Opened two years ago and funded by the EU, the Olsztyn Science and Technology Park, with nearly 14,000 square metres of office and laboratory space, caters to companies working in IT, biotechnology and bio-food, and geomatics and satellite technologies.

Tenants at the science park attest to the local talent pool, bolstered by a student population of more than 35,000. Olsztyn has one of the youngest populations in Poland – more than 65% of the population is working age – and is a rare Polish city in that it is recording population growth, although 'brain drain' remains a concern, as is the case elsewhere in the country. But many of the researchers and entrepreneurs working at the Olsztyn Science and Technology Park also point to the work-life balance it offers, as well as the relaxing atmosphere provided by the ubiquitous water and trees, as a selling point for staying in the area. 

“I love this area – the lakes, the environment, the calmer life,” says Artur Wasilewski, CEO of software development company Ekosystem, one of the first companies to set up in the park. “In my business I can work with customers all around the world from wherever I am, and for my personal life it’s better here. My wife and I love the sailing and the lifestyle.”