With the economic development community stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. Like many European countries, Hungary has been in partial lockdown for the last few weeks. 

Róbert Ésik, chief executive of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (Hipa) discusses adjusting to the crisis and the Hungarian government’s economic action plan.

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Q. How has the crisis affected you professionally and personally?

Professionally, all meetings, conferences and events have been wiped out from our calendars – we’re shifting all internal customer meetings to video calls. And personally, having three small kids and no kindergarten or schools open has also been a challenge!

Q. How has Hipa’s role changed?

Our role as an agency has not changed but the structure of our activities has been transformed. Our three activities are promoting Hungary as a business and investment location, providing management consultancy services to clients (whether existing or prospective investors) and policy advocacy. 

Our consultancy activity has changed because the focus on new projects has shifted to aftercare. We have been quite active in policy advocacy and getting suggestions from clients [on what they need from] a possible economic action plan.

 Q. What is Hungary’s economic action plan?

An economic stimulus package which amounts to 18-20% of GDP – it’s probably the highest volume economic stimulus package in Hungary’s history. 

The government package has four main pillars. The first priority is to protect existing jobs; the second pillar of the plan is to continue to promote investment and help job creation wherever possible.

The third pillar is about relaunching the economy with a specific focus on key sectors which have been heavily impacted such as tourism, or are important from a strategic point of view, such as the food industry, and the manufacture of personal protective equipment for healthcare providers. 

The fourth pillar is financing. During this difficult period, many companies will be worried about keeping workers and maintaining liquidity. The government is introducing schemes to help them.

Q. Where does Hipa fit within this plan?

As an IPA we are working on a new incentive scheme, which is applicable during the crisis period. It is in line with the EU Commission's March statement which says member states can provide additional liquidity to companies that are adversely affected by the crisis.

We are providing cash to companies which commit upfront to investments.

Any company that invests during this difficult period – from an initial value of €150,000 of capex – we are providing state aid on top of that. Depending on the size of the investment, the state aid could be 30-50%. But for any capital expenditure above €500,000 we will provide 50% of the investment in cash. 

Q. What would be your advice to other IPAs?

It’s important to continue to help your clients during the crisis. Our focus has shifted from attracting investment to aftercare. For example, providing support in logistics-related matters, supporting key personnel in the country or providing information to clients about the measures the country is taking.

Q. What do you recommend other leaders do during the crisis?

Have a plan and strategy during the crisis period but also try to prepare for when the crisis is over. In our case, we had the opportunity to provide input into the government’s economic action plan. It’s nice to see our proposals getting implemented by the government, and it has given us extra motivation in these difficult times.

Róbert Ésik is CEO of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, Hipa

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.