The Slovenia Times

Serving the investor, which is the king for us, without being servile!



To put things in perspective: 4000 robots are expected to be produced in the initial stage before scaling up to 6000, when the plant will reach full capacity; between 170 and 200 new jobs are going to be created; and 5.8 million euros will be coming from the state budget. The Slovenia Times went to talk with the city's major, Vladimir Prebilič, a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana, who can be easily considered the main driving force behind this success story.

 What is the secret of this success story for Kočevje?

A good investment climate is about improving outcomes for society as a whole. At the city council, we do not work on our differences, but rather on our common interests and goals. So, it does not matter where you are from, but rather who you are. As a result, in the city we now have for different religious groups that live together in peace, and we all engage in a transparent, open dialogue to discuss all that is in our municipality's best interest. This atmosphere has created a favorable humus for outside investors.

Well, it is all great, but I doubt that this alone has propelled Yaskawa to invest here.

This atmosphere was not enough, but it has been crucial to have a city council where party-politics dynamics does not prevail. Over the last 20 years we realized that to grow we could not make it alone, but we needed foreign investors to succeed. Our philosophy became: we shall serve the investor, which is king for us, without being servile.

So much for the investment climate. What were the steps that led to the formidable outcome?

I met with Manfred Stern, the head of Yaskawa Europe, in 2015. He knew virtually nothing about the advantages of investing in the Pokolpje region, such as low taxation and government incentives. Another crucial aspect was to realize that land ownership structure is very simple: 15% belongs to the Kočevje municipality, the rest to the state, which made it easy for them.

Yaskawa Electric Corporation is already present in Slovenia, so this helped.

It has definitely been an advantage that Yaskawa was acquainted with the area, but it is not as straightforward as you may think. Without support from the government, which travelled to Japan and relentlessly promoted the country as an investment destination, there would have been no Slovenia on the map, let alone Kočevje. Among the pool of countries that were considered for the investment there were France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and all the four Visegrad. Since Slovenia was picked as the investment destination, we managed to establish a direct line, and ultimately the counterpart was reassured to be in direct contact with the decision-maker. I think that a combination of transparency and flexibility from our administration proved to be the decisive factor.

The investment for the European robot plant is of strategic importance for Yaskawa.
We plan to supply customers in Europe with robots manufactured in Europe. Being close to the production site increases customer satisfaction and thus supports growth.

Slovenia is a good combination of the shortest distance for component supply from the Far East and a good location to distribute finished robots to customers in EMEA, and this is possible because of a well skilled, motivated local work force.

Manfred Stern, President & CEO, Yaskawa Europe GmbH

What about skills, competences and all else required of a high-tech industrial production?

In general, it is very difficult to have 100% skilled labor force, but also in this regard we have been flexible. To all the companies coming here we ask what skills they are looking for, and we help them either identify the right candidates through the administration or our business incubator, or we build skilled forces together with the company. On top of this, we guarantee 4000 euros for every additional job created and for which a local person is hired.

Beside Yaskawa, during the past year in Kočevje there has been a series of successful stories: from SiDG as manager of all state-owned woods, to a joint venture with a German investor to start smartMELAMINE, a production of a completely new textile material. What's attracting them?

I think that there are three features to emphasize in the big picture. First and foremost, we started investing in infrastructure to create a favorable FDI environment, a decision that is paying off in the long term. Secondly, the majority of council members are not party-driven, but rather driven from the interest in the local reality. An investment is not made only of money, but of people and all they bring. Finally, over the years we have established a good communication line with the government. When we call, we share the solution to a problem, we do not ask for subsidies.

As a municipality, you are the third largest forest owner in Slovenia. There seem to be good perspectives, in terms of tourism and sustainable development. Can you tell me more about this?

We recently decided to establish a municipal company called Kočevski Les, which has the exclusive concession over 4000 hectares of woodland and oversees all the wood processing activities for over 25000 cubic meters of wood per year. This means that Kočevski Les is in charge of the whole wood production process, which currently employs 30 people and we hope to double that number next year. In terms of tourism, we have invested approximately 2 million euros to build infrastructure. This year we will open a youth hostel in the center of town with an info tourist point, plus we are creating and servicing a camping area. However, our primary goal is to attract hiking tourists, as the surrounding area caters to that. And we need to make sure that we are ready to offer them something in line with their expectations. In 2 or 3 years, we want to double the current number of visitors per year, which is now about 16000.

What is your vision for the future?

I do not hide that I have received some offers to work on the national political levels, but I am so focused on the future of Kočevje that I have kindly declined them. Though you never know: maybe tomorrow there will be someone who could serve better the municipality's needs, and I will happily leave the stage. Regarding the vision for the future, our goal is three-fold: attracting new investments, as far as they are environment friendly; developing and growing tourism; and working on local self-esteem. We have to educate younger generations to believe in our city. Did you know that Kočevje was the first city to be electrified in Slovenia, in 1892, well before anywhere else in the country? This is one example of our past achievements on which we should build.

Much like the electrification process, one could only hope that the Yaskawa investment will be considered as the first drop that propelled the spillover effect.


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