“Here for a job interview?” a security officer asks at the door of the new, swanky offices in Lublin that house insurance firm Proama, part of the Italy-based Generali Group's portfolio. This is a sign that he is either impressed by the reporter's sharp outfit or, more likely, that Proama is growing at an impressive pace. Moments later, Katarzyna Goral, Proama's HR manager, confirms the latter.
“We have been growing rapidly and at a much faster rate than anticipated,” says Ms Goral. She goes on to explain that access to the talent pool was one of the main contributors to Proama's decision to move to Lublin, and has been a key factor in allowing it to grow much faster than projected.
“Lublin has more than 70,000 students, so each year a large number of well-educated and ambitious people join the workforce. Plus, the city is home to a number of financial and insurance firms, which gives us a supply of high-calibre candidates,” says Ms Goral. “We were also looking for a place that is located within a two-and-a-half-hour to three-hour drive from Warsaw, and Lublin is within that range."
Proama has had a presence in Lublin since 2011, and its headcount in the city currently totals 530 employees, some 80% of the company's Polish workforce.
Not quite as large, but equally as ambitious, is Austrian IT company Trimetis, which has an office in the same office complex as Proama. “We started with zero employees, now we have 20 and we plan to hire a further 50 this year,” says Wolfgang Weber, one of the company's co-founders and a board member.
Computer programmers make up most of Trimesis's workforce at its Lublin office and, while Mr Weber says that access to talent is limited, owing to a high demand for IT professionals across the country, so far, choosing Lublin has proven to be a good bet. “We chose Lublin out of 15 other locations across Poland. Getting IT professionals might at times be challenging, but we feel comfortable here,” he says.
Keeping its cool
The Lublin authorities hope that more investors will discover the many advantages of operating in the city, just as Trimetis and Proama have. Among the sub-sectors that it is making special efforts to attract is nearshore financial service and IT centre business. While Poland has emerged as a regional leader in business service projects, Lublin is yet to really capture this market.
The Association of Business Services Leaders, a Warsaw-based lobby group, estimates that there are some 128,000 people employed in Poland's nearshore operations. Lublin accounts for just 4% of this figure, a proportion that fails to reflect the city's size and business stature, and sees it lag behind leading clusters such as Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk.
But, according to Honorata Kepowicz-Olszowka, a project manager at the Lublin City Hall's department of strategy and investor services, the fact that Lublin is a latecomer in the race for business service jobs works to the benefit of both foreign investors and the city itself. “We have 4000 people employed at business process outsourcing-related operations; Krakow has 25,000. But, while Krakow is overheating, we still have plenty of room to grow,” she says.