When Arturas Zuokas, mayor of Lithuania's capital city Vilnius, noticed that many of the city's residents were parking illegally, the 43-year-old took action – with a tank. The former television journalist – who covered the first Gulf war as well as stories in Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ossetia – knows the power of television and had cameras present when he took a tank and drove over a Mercedes that was parked illegally in a bike lane. The PR stunt – which was shown on Swedish television first and then became a viral hit – won Mr Zuokas fans across the globe. 

Although he may take an unorthodox approach to parking issues, Mr Zuokas is serious when it comes to getting investors to consider locating in Vilnius. "After the crisis period, Vilnius and Lithuania lost a lot of potential investors," Mr Zuokas tells fDiduring an interview in his offices. "So the past few years were quite complicated for the city. But now, we have seen previous investors coming back looking for new possibilities or looking at how to continue with previous ideas and projects."  

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Finish the job

The city, for now, is looking to continue many brownfield projects that were partially started before the recession hit – some projects were shut down while financing was reworked, others closed completely. “We are looking for new investors who could continue [these projects],” the mayor says. "Many have licences to build, so it’s about getting the planning. We are telling investors: ‘You will save your time.’ As a city we would like to see sustainable development, not just new projects. I have met with possible investors who already have existing projects – more than €700m already invested – so now it is [about] how to help them to move and continue.”

Mr Zuokas also says that the location of Vilnius is a major selling point for the city. "We propose a much bigger market than our neighbours, excluding Warsaw. If you make a 300-kilometre circle with Vilnius at the centre, you have more than 16 million inhabitants," he says. "Plus that includes four major regional cities – Vilnius, Minsk, Riga and Kaliningrad. So if you locate your business in Vilnius, you can be active in the region with 16 million, plus in three different markets – Russia, Belarus and Europe."

Competing Baltic capitals Riga and Tallinn (and even Helsinki) only offer a market of 7 million inhabitants each, "so our location is perfect for big companies to chose as a hub for their activities in Europe", adds Mr Zuokas.

There could also be investment coming into Lithuania from the Guangzhou region of China, as Vilnius has recently signed an agreement with representatives from the area. “We met recently [with some Guangzhou-based companies] to have a hub in the Baltics, where they would like to place their European offices,” says Mr Zuokas.

Bright future
 
The city of Vilnius will next year offer tenders on large projects within the city, including updating the city lighting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the development and expansion of more than 20 schools and nurseries, and a new big public transport project. There will also be tender next year – valued at €25m – for a waste-recycling factory. This winning tender will not only propose the technology and make the design for the facility but also will operate it as well.

There are also hopes that the city could become a centre for companies that want to locate their back offices in Europe. Western Union was one such company that expanded its operations in the Lithuanian capital in 2011, and now more than 400 employees are serving many of the company’s European business activities from Vilnius.

"[During the past decade] we saw many Western companies move their back offices – payroll, IT, call centres – to India. But now they are thinking to be closer to their clients," says Mr Zuokas. “Labour costs, which were [the impetus] for companies choosing India in the past, have changed, so maybe it’s better to be closer to Western markets. Vilnius could be a good place for that.”