A small town of some 50,000 people in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) opened its door to investors and they noticed: Some of Europe’s biggest companies are looking to invest in Gradiska after it rolled out the industrial zone equivalent of the red carpet – a wastewater treatment plant – and became a certifiably ‘business friendly’ town.
In 2018, a USAID project called Restoring Accountability and Supporting Transformation, or RAST, helped Gradiska municipality (located in Republika Srpska, one of two BiH entities) improve conditions for existing companies and to attract new investors. Together USAID and Gradiska upgraded the infrastructure in the Nova Topola Agro-Industrial Zone, jointly financing the construction of a wastewater treatment facility, which benefits citizens in the surrounding area too.
“This was a very significant project for the Agro-Industrial Zone, where we intend to bring new investors and open new jobs.… We need to bring the zone’s entire infrastructure to the highest level – water, sewage, roads,” said Gradiška Mayor Zoran Adzic. “By building the wastewater treatment system, we laid the groundwork for a proper sewage system in the zone and the local community in Nova Topola,” he said.
USAID also helped Gradiska meet the requirements for the southeast European Business Friendly Certification (BFC). To meet BFC standards and provide favorable conditions for investors, the municipality lowered the taxes and contributions for businesses by 10-50 percent and made the first business registration free of charge.
Before the improvements, there were just six businesses and 250 employees working in the Agro-Industrial Zone. Today they are expanding production for export, particularly in the metal, wood, and textile industries, Adzic said.
And some big international companies are now coming to invest. One of the biggest is Calzedonia Group, an Italian-based global company that produces stockings and swimwear. Calzedonia is building a factory of 11,000m2 and will employ 350-400 workers.
This is just the start, Adzic says: “We want to use our advantage – the fact that we are located at the entrance to the EU, and that we have the strategic position and vicinity of airports in Zagreb and Belgrade. We also want to catch the trend of knowledge and technology transfer from the EU and bring it to Gradiska. We must intensify our efforts to attract the investments to bring as many companies as possible.”
Businesses appreciate being welcomed with open arms, Azdic said. When another investor came from Italy to obtain permits to expand production in Gradiska, he was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the local administration, saying he would never have gotten the permits that fast elsewhere, not even back home in Italy.