Until just a few years ago, industrial zones existed mainly on paper in Bulgaria. However, municipalities gradually began waking up to the need to become more self-reliant to grow, and the interest in such zones increased. Now, the local authorities of Stara Zagora, Kazanlak and Sliven all have plans for creating their own industrial zones - with the latter having agreed collaboration with the neighboring Yambol region.
The central government has a part to play in all three cases - either by providing funding, land, or attracting investors. That would make the zones municipal-state areas, which differs significantly from the successful examples of the regions of Plovdiv and Shumen where private interest and business activity are the main drivers. Cooperation between the central and local authorities seems like a more complicated way to go but by the end of 2020, Central Bulgaria should have three new industrial zones on the lookout for investors.
Stara Zagora hopes that its Zagore industrial zone will catch up with Plovdiv's Trakia Economic Zone. A detailed development plan has already been approved, followed by the launch of design and construction procedures. They were planned for completion in spring 2019, according to Zagore director Radoslav Tanev. However, that now seems over-optimistic given the progress so far.
Fortunately, no significant funds will be necessary in order to complete the project. The plots of land, embracing a total of 11.5 hectares, are located where the roads and other technical infrastructure are relatively good. Also, the municipality has the option to include other nearby plots it owns to further expand the area in the future.
Currently, the local authorities plan to run auctions for available plots in spring, while the actual construction of Zagore is still underway. That said, it is still unclear what types of companies have expressed an interest in the future area. Mr Tanev refuses to give names, only saying that two of the investors are entirely export-oriented. He maintains that a transport company has also registered interest.
Last summer, the local authorities in Kazanlak signed a memorandum with state-owned National Company Industrial Zones (NCIZ), which marked the launch of its own economic zone project, 30 km away from Zagore. In December, the municipal council approved an independent assessment of 6.8 hectares of municipal property where the new zone will be built.
As is the case with Stara Zagora, Kazanlak also plans to build and promote its new zone at the same time. According to Mayor Galina Stoyanova, the memorandum with NCIZ will be an opportunity to get Kazanlak noticed by investors. In addition, the region is hoping to attract investors by training workers specifically for local business' needs in sectors like engineering, hydraulics and light industry. Though the project is still in its early stages, Ms Stoyanova says, without elaborating, that "there have already been talks" with European and Chinese investors.
The municipality of Sliven is also ready with a detailed development plan for its own industrial zone and is negotiating with interested companies, according to city mayor Stefan Radev. The municipality has allocated 250 hectares of urbanized municipal property, which would allow investment in both small and large industrial sites.
The local authorities depend on the government's InvestBulgaria Agency for help with filling up the zone. According to Mr Radev, officials are looking for a big investor to determine the profile of the zone. Procedures for infrastructure construction will only begin after that interested party is found.
Although Sliven's neighbour Yambol initially baulked at the idea of a common industrial zone between the two regions, an agreement was reached between them to join forces in the search for investors.