The shipyards of Gdansk carry an indelible resonance in the Polish psyche as the birthplace of the ‘Solidarity’ movement that helped free the country from the Soviet Union, and the city enjoys some level of international recognition for the same reason. The ‘Tricity’ area of which Gdansk is a part is considerably less well known outside of Poland, however. 

Tricity – or Trójmiasto in Polish – officially came into being in 2007 when a declaration of co-operation was signed between Gdansk and its neighbours Gdynia and Sopot, all of which are situated on the Gdansk Bay in Poland’s Baltic Sea coast within the Pomeranian Voivodeship. All told, the Tricity metropolitan area – which also encompasses smaller communities such as Wejherowo, Reda, Rumia and Pruszcz Gdański – has a population of more than 1 million people. It is a generally affluent area by Polish standards, with nearly 35% of Tricity taxpayers falling into the middle- and high-income brackets compared with a Polish average of 10%. The population is also well educated, with a total of 20 universities (13 in Gdansk and 7 in Gdynia) and more than 70,000 students. 

Advertisement

Measured all together, the Tricity area has a compelling proposition. “We are stronger together,” says Marcin Piatkowski, director of the Invest in Pomerania agency.

Recognition problem 

But the component parts of the Tricity conglomeration, rather than the combined whole, are often the basis of measurement. It is difficult to get on location shortlists for companies or rank highly in international benchmarks if the stats are listed separately for the three cities, says Mr Piatkowski. 

Being a relatively new creation, Tricity is not well recognised internationally as a defined concept, with few major branding efforts having been made to solidify it in the global consciousness. Barriers also exist at the local level, although local officials insist they are co-operating. Communicating the individual merits of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot while also creating a combined Tricity identity, and at the same time not confusing things further with a regional Pomerania brand, is a complicated task, and one that has not yet been resolved. 

Each municipality brings something slightly different to the table. A popular seaside resort for mostly Polish holidaymakers, Sopot is not much of a business hub, but with its beaches and bars provides the fun and frivolity that liveable coastal areas demand. Gdansk is the largest city of the trio, with a population of more than 460,000, and as one of the oldest cities in Poland (it was founded in the 10th century), has a historic and highly scenic city centre. While Gdansk is steeped in history, Gdynia is a ‘new’ town, having celebrated its 90th birthday this year. Built mostly from scratch – an unusual scenario in Poland – its purpose was to help carve out a slice of Baltic coastline and provide a strategic port for Poland during a time when Gdansk was part of the free city of Danzig, a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, and thus not fully Polish. 

Storms at the ports 

As port cities, Gdansk and Gdynia have faced many of the same challenges. Shipyards in both places have been the site of violent strikes through their histories, and more recently have suffered between them restructurings, closures and job losses; both ports have had to evolve with the times, sometimes painfully. 

Employment at the Port of Gdansk is far below what it was at its peak in the 1980s but the value of its output is higher, says Andrzej Bojanowski, deputy mayor of economic policy for the city of Gdansk. The port is moving up the value chain and carrying out more advanced functions, he says. In 2013, the port saw a record 30 million tonnes of transshipment. In nearby Gdynia, total cargo handled at its port has doubled since 2000. 

Despite local pleas, the European Commission shut down Gdynia’s major shipyard in 2009, prompting fears of mass unemployment. 

“We survived the situation of the shipyard being closed. Nowadays there are more employers on the site – not just one big shipyard but several small ones, very specialised and advanced,” says Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychala, deputy mayor of Gdynia. “It seemed a disaster but we made a big effort to support them after the closure, with loans, training and other assistance. People working at the shipyards had a lot of knowledge and some of them decided to start their own companies [after the closure].” 

The dockside facilities had to be made to match the new situation and cater to a raft of smaller, more innovative companies that have since emerged to serve the maritime industry. Enter Constructors' Park, which opened in November 2015 and is offering office space and well equipped labs to marine technology companies.

Office space 

This points to another shared challenge that Gdansk has also confronted. The city faced a dilemma in the mid-2000s as it found itself losing out on inward investments because of a lack of adequate office space to offer companies. There is now a cluster of modern office facilities to choose from, including the 75,000-square-metre Olivia Business Park which hosts 100 companies and is set to double in size in the next five years. Both Gdansk and Gdynia are busy renovating waterside areas to increase residential and leisure options as well. 

“We had to take a gamble and go ahead and build facilities without knowing whether they would be filled. But it has worked out,” says Mr Piatkowski. Demand for the facilities is strong, and looks set to grow. According to data from crossborder investment monitor fDi Markets, greenfield investment into the Tricity has been on the rise the past two years, though it has still not returned to pre-crisis levels. 

Gdansk now ranks as the sixth most popular city in Poland for greenfield investment projects, according to fDi Markets, and Gdynia ranks 11th. These are respectable rankings for the cities’ respective sizes; of course, as local officials are quick to point out, if their totals were combined into a Tricity tally, the area would easily crack the top five.