On July 21 in Skopje, Macedonia2025 organized the Forum for Diaspora Businesspeople and Investors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The event attracted more than 130 guests, a good number of which were people who have returned to Macedonia to start their own business, to continue an ongoing cooperation with a foreign company or to look for investment opportunities. The audience was addressed by Diaspora entrepreneurs who have invested in IT, BPO, tourism, construction, production, textile production and the film industry. High officials from the Government of Macedonia presented their activities in attracting diaspora investors, aftercare for servicing investors’ needs and alleviating obstacles that are facing the returning expatriates.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nikola Poposki, welcomed the guests and emphasized the vast and untapped intellectual potential of the Macedonian Diaspora. Minister of Foreign Investments, Jerry Naumoff, explained that his efforts in promoting the country are also focused on the diaspora, where the target audience is made of people who are looking to start micro, small and middle-size enterprises that are smart, innovative and add value to the products and services. He gave examples of companies that have been established by the Diaspora investors including Macedonia2025 Board Members Chris Pavlovski and Vera Stavroff.
The successful businessman Hasan Mazlum, who comes from the Debar region and has returned to Macedonia from Italy, called on the Government’s economic promoters who are active in different countries, to engage the diaspora and promote there the possibilities of investing in rural areas. “There,” said Mazlum, “the big companies are never going to invest. People in the diaspora are emotively attached to the places where they come from. It means a lot to them when they can employ people or active the local economy. Macedonia now needs more trade schools so that the investments can work. It is unreal that everyone works as a manager.”
Mitko Bojkovski has returned from Australia and invested in a company that produces industrial and soft fabrics. He called on the relevant institutions to improve the infrastructure in small cities, where, he said, there are businesspeople who act on their own and invite people from the diaspora, as well as foreigners, who are interested to invest. The main concern of those who have invested in small towns and rural areas is road infrastructure and a constant supply of electricity. The entrepreneurs who have invested in processing and production equipment or who consider making an investment in that area, have cited the need of a new strategy in education that is focused on manual and technical skills. They agreed that a strong segment of manual skilled labor force will help Macedonia to remain competitive in the technological production and processing sectors.
One of the investors and speakers at the Forum, who is not of Macedonian origin but acts as an informal country ambassador, was Ewald Koenig, who started the travel agency Mac Sun Travel. The agency, headquartered in Skopje, organizes tours around the Balkans and is responsible for increasing the number of incoming tourists to Macedonia from 500 seven years ago, to 15000 last year mostly from Austria, Germany and Scandinavia. Mr. Koenig gave recommendations for making Macedonia a better destination, emphasizing that a well-functioning National Tourism Agency that will administer the tourism subventions in a proper manner is a must.
George Stamkoski is a filmmaker from London who has more than twenty years of experience in creating documentaries and reportages. George presented his vision for the transforming Macedonia into a creative and film-making region and gave an outline of how this can be facilitated by the relevant institutions. Other investors who have succeeded in expanding their investments are Kris Popovski, the founder of the fine garment producer Signori; Petar Spaseski who continued to work for the Hatch IT Asset Manger team, as a global manager located in Ohrid; and Vladimir Robevski who is the founder and manager of iSource located in Bitola. All of these entrepreneurs continue to invest in their companies, create opportunities to expand and invest in educating new employees. They produce value added products “Made in Macedonia” and they promote the image of the county internationally.
Macedonia2025 presented its research based on a survey that was filled by investors from the diaspora. The research presented details about investments and responses related to the advantages found in Macedonia, the quality of support provided by government institutions and the overall business climate. It was concluded that 88% of the respondents have higher education or Master’s degrees and the overwhelming majority arrive to Macedonia from somewhere in Europe and that their target market are European clients and consumers. 90% of the companies are small or medium with up to 50 employees.
The survey defined several areas where the respondents said they would invest. The most popular sectors are IT and BPO, tourism, agriculture and technology manufacture. The labor market needs further development and there needs to be a bigger investment by the government in the educational system, conclude the respondents; the current labor force is, however, able to adopt quickly to the requirements of the workplace. The overall quality of the administrative service depends on the competence of individuals and the government is asked to introduce training programs for educating civil servants according to the standards and needs of the investors.
The Government representatives agreed that changes need to take place in the process of administering passports and personal documents for diaspora individuals, as well as in the process of regulating work permits for foreigners. They will look into introducing an expedited process of processing documents for diaspora representatives. Also, they agreed that the skills of the administrative workers need to be upgraded and that all relevant institutions need to dedicate at least one civil servant to administer the needs of the foreign investors in a professional and expedited manner.
Macedonia2025 pleaded with the investment promotion structures not to present Macedonia as a country that offers cheap labor. Investors look for qualified and skilled workforce, and therefore the country should be profiled as a destination that offers skilled work force under competitive rates. Additionally, The Executive Director of Macedonia2025, Biljana Markovic Stamenova, emphasized that the country requires an overall national strategy at the highest institutional level so that potential diaspora investors are mapped out, offered services and attracted to visit the country, but also fully facilitated in the process of investing and aftercare. “Without such strategy, the country loses a huge opportunity and potential to increase investments from the diaspora. The strategy should include small and medium enterprises that can contribute with their transfer of know-how, access to new markets as well as production of innovative products that are made in Macedonia.”” – she emphasized.
Macedonia2025 has meet with a number of potential diaspora investors who are eager to invest in the country. They are still not aware of the institutional support provided by the government and sometimes they are lost in the process, especially when it comes dealing with the local municipalities. The Forum provided a great feedback on how these investors could get assistance by the Government. It provided an open forum for an objective and intensive discussion on crucial matters which we are eager to continue discussing next year.
We invite all diaspora current and potential investors to provide us with a list of recommendations for doing business in Macedonia which Macedonia2025 will share with all relevant institutions as a “white paper”. For more details please reach out to Maja Staleska at firstname.lastname@example.org or 3 218 631.