It can be hard to find a job in Bulgaria, but the country is working on it.
Historically, the nation has lagged behind some of its neighbors in terms of economic vitality; now, though, some signs of economic progress have begun to appear. In the southern Plovdiv region, around the historic city of the same name, planners have set up a Trakia Economic Zone or TEZ, which is actually six industrial areas combined into one. The zone is touted for its location on railway routes and transport corridors, secured infrastructure and a specialized administrative unit.
In December, Balkans Insight reported on approximately 5,000 jobs available in the zone, some related to investment by auto manufacturing firms and others.
“Bulgaria is our third-largest location (for production) in the world, after China and Mexico, with a key role for the European market,” Chavdar Kamenov, of Sensata Technologies, a company that makes sensors and auto controls, told Balkans Insight. By press time, representatives of Sensata had not returned calls from the Gulf News Journal for comment.
The problem now, ironically, is that the previous scarcity of jobs drove workers away, leaving a shortage for the available positions. In many cases, the lack of educational opportunities also meant residents had to go elsewhere, and they then stayed on for employment.
Recent reports show ongoing efforts to bring back ethnic Bulgarians and to recruit elsewhere, such as the Ukraine. Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and its cultural and historical attractions might be a draw as well.
Plovdiv’s mayor, Stefan Stoyanov, is hoping the current momentum toward Plovdiv and the TEZ continues.
“Right now, Plovdiv is the second city in terms of attracting migration from the whole of Bulgaria,” Stoyanov told Balkans Insight. “Over the past several years, Plovdiv has proved itself as an industrial leader in the country – over 50 percent of the region’s economy is comprised of production.”
Although some analysts are upbeat about the potential for future development in Bulgaria, others are more skeptical.
“It's (Bulgaria's) not the worst in terms of economic freedom,” Richard Rahn, an American economist and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic, said. “But it should be doing a lot better.”
Rahn pointed to Estonia as an example of a country that modernized to attract development, suggesting that Bulgarian growth should be nearer to 7 percent growth than its current 3 percent.
“They key thing … is too much corruption,” Rahn said. He said corruption and red tape are the “Achilles' heel” of Bulgarian economics.
“They never went all the way with things they needed to do,” Rahn said, citing low incomes and a “disappointing” overall shift toward modern development.
“It's not a disaster,” Rahn said. “But it hasn't really taken off.”
Rahn said in 1990, Bulgaria and Estonia were roughly equal in terms of per capita income. Estonia put in place key policies that decreased corruption and let economic growth flourish, and Bulgaria needs to do the same, he said.
“It's a factor of policies and institutions,” Rahn said. “Good economic zones are demonstrations of what can be done for a whole country.”