Q: Narva seems to have been a bit neglected in terms of investment and economic attention within Estonia. Do you agree? And could this change?
A: On the one hand, this is true. When the allocation of the country's budget takes place, the financing of Narva in comparison with some other municipalities – Tartu, for instance – looks fairly modest. However, as far as utilising the investments from different EU programmes and funds is concerned, Narva exhibits an exceptional level of activity, using every possible resource for our economic development.
Between 2007 to 2013 we were very successful in this regard: the city has either already completed or is currently implementing a number of large-scale investment projects. Examples include the projects replacing water and sewerage networks as well as the construction of a brand new water cleaning station, the creation of the infrastructure for the industrial park in the Kadastiku district, the reconstruction of [historic fortified structure] Viktoria Bastion, the construction of the Narva embankment promenade and the reconstruction of the recreational area in Joaorg, among others.
Q: Does Narva's Russian culture/ethnicity help or harm its efforts to attract investment? Could its different identity be made into an attribute for investors? If so, how?
A: Multiculturalism and an advantageous geographic location – being on the border with Russia and neighbouring St Petersburg – are the strengths of our city. We are trying to use them to their full potential when it comes to attracting investments. Naturally, the fact that almost 100% of the people here speak Russian is an advantage for potential Russian investors and employers when they decide on a location for a new factory.
The experience we have gained at Narva Logistics and Industrial Park, where the majority of investors are Russian, proves that the Russian culture/ethnicity of the population helps Narva and intensifies the efforts we are making to bring investments here. Of the 67 nationalities represented in the city, Ukranian and Belarus ethnic societies are most numerous, which also gives us an edge in the development of business ties with these countries.
Q: What are your top priorities as mayor?
A: There are several priorities, which I outlined in my programme for the elections to the post. First, it is vital to work constantly on improving the image of the city, to spread the word, locally and beyond, about the good things happening here. The second priority is something I have already mentioned – supporting business, entrepreneurship and investors in the creation of new jobs.
The third important issue is to react adequately to educational, social and medical problems requiring urgent attention. This requires improvements in the administrative capacity of the city government. I believe there is a need for a more efficient structure, more enhanced coordination between different departments as well as improvements in the feedback we receive from the residents to be able to take into account their interests at the initial stages of action planning.
Talking of long-term strategic goals, I would like to increase our focus on city planning. The monitoring of the balanced development of the city districts should be a continuous process, with the objective of making the city more attractive. It is also crucial to work on security issues, so that the city dwellers and visitors will feel safe here at any time of day or night.
In addition, it is important to widen contacts with the ministries and other state organisations because Narva, besides being the third largest city in the country, is also a strategic place on the border between the EU, Estonia and Russia. Thus, a positive image and progressive development have an impact that goes beyond the boundaries of the municipality.
Q: Is the attraction of foreign investment a priority?
A: A huge priority at the moment is the creation of competitive jobs. Overcoming this problem would solve at least two burning issues: a rather high unemployment rate and the outflow of the population, including youths, caused by the lack of jobs and low wages. Certainly, the more investments we attract, the more jobs will be created; thus, both issues will be tackled at once.
Q: What have been Narva's key sectors and should they be updated?
A: Narva’s key economic sectors before 1990 were industry – textiles, woodwork, machinery – and energy production. The basis of the city's economy were large-scale state enterprises, where most of the residents used to work.
At present, the 'key' sectors are trade, services and construction.
The city needs to revive and develop the industrial sector, particularly when you take into account that we have everything in place: free industrial areas, industrial parks and zones, a labour force with all the necessary skills, and relatively cheap energy sources. At the same time, the city has to make use of its other strengths and modern trends, and be more active in improving the service sector, particularly tourism, and developing transport and logistics as well as ICT.
Q: What competitive advantages does Narva have that could be leveraged to attract more investment?
A: First of all, the potential lies in the industrial parks of Narva. We sell investors land allotments, which are already connected to water and sewerage systems as well as heating and the internet, for the very attractive price of €9 per square metre. The bought land could be used for production lines, warehouses or small factories – anything. At the moment, the total area that is ‘cut and dried’ and ready for sale land amounts to 700,000 square metres.
Secondly, if we draw an imaginary circle of 200 kilometres (km) in radius from the centre in the two largest cities in our region – Tallinn and St Petersburg – we will see that the number of people within the potential market areas is 2.5 million and 7 million, respectively. However, if a similar circle were drawn around Narva, the number of potential clients would reach the 9 million mark. This only proves the point that the city has a favourable strategic location in the region, which coupled with the good railroad connection with Russia and a close proximity to Sillamäe seaport – 26km away – make Narva an important transit city between the EU, Estonia and Russia, and an attractive location for investment.
In addition, our rich history and the well-preserved complex of fortifications of Narva castle and Ivangorod fortress, both situated in the picturesque location on either side of the Narva River, create very good conditions for the development of tourism in the region.
Besides, only 14km north of the city, on the coastline of the Finnish Bay, sits the small town of Narva-Jõesuu. A broad sandy beach, which stretches for 13km, and the pine-tree wood make this place a wonderful resort. Narva-Jõesuu is growing and attracting more and more tourists, which is also advantageous for Narva.
Finally, the city has been implementing a system of support for investors, which among other things includes the return of a percentage on the paid local tax and support measures for entrepreneurs who bring jobs in the city.
Q: What are the city’s main disadvantages and how do you plan to address these?
A: Narva is hardly a unique place in Estonia when it comes to disadvantages in economic or social areas. Some of the problems are definitely more acute than anywhere else, such as the decreasing and ageing population, outflow of the young, lack of jobs, or lack of highly qualified specialists – doctors, for instance. Unfortunately, just like in most of the other municipalities – with the exception of Tallinn and Tartu – these problems and disadvantages have not been solved or successfully tackled.
What’s worse, some of these tend to get worse with time… It only proves the fact that without the state support it is extremely difficult for the municipality to get rid of the complicated issues as the local budget and resources is getting scarcer and scarcer each year.
As far as addressing the issues is concerned, the city has a strategic development plan, which lays out the provisions for improving the present state of affairs. The most important task is to work hard in trying to develop our industrial parks, which takes in all the measures already mentioned. Our specialists from the Department for Economy and Development are working continuously to attract more investments from the EU programmes and funds through other projects. To bridge the gap in the amount of qualified specialists in Narva, we plan to invite professionals both from other regions of the country and abroad.