Special Report: Olivia Business Centre – A breath of fresh air by the Baltic

Gdansk is Poland’s largest port city (AdobeStock/ Sergii Figurnyi)

Poland’s Tri-City area on the Baltic is attracting investment and talent due to its clean air, outdoor pursuits and business support, reports Paul Strohm.

Any discussion of Poland as a business destination might naturally begin with its capital, Warsaw, and routinely include familiar names: Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan, Lodz. However, increasingly the conurbation tagged Tri-City is cropping up on lists as a potential target area.

The fact that Alexa, the AI voice service that is now a key part of the Amazon offer, was created there has helped draw attention to the area – and the fact that Amazon has gone on to expand its office-based presence and the functions located there. But so too has the area’s growing significance among the business process outsourcing community.

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Tri-City, so called because it is a metropolitan area comprising the three adjacent cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot, has a collective population of around 1 million and a growing list of international companies that have established a foothold there.

Situated in the Pomerania region, it is also distinct in that, as the country’s largest urban area in the north, it includes both Poland’s largest port city Gdańsk, the only deep water container terminal in the Baltic. But it also includes Sopot, the country’s biggest seaside resort.

These contrasts are symbolic of a widescale combination of an efficient and established commercial infrastructure sitting alongside quality-of-life characteristics that local leaders are keen to emphasise.

Gdańsk’s deputy mayor, Alan Aleksandrowicz, says that for people employed by companies locating their businesses to Gdańsk, the attractions include the fact that it is a historic city situated between the sea, the Tricity Landscape Park and the area of countryside and lakes known as Kashubia.

“Gdańsk also has a well-developed educational infrastructure for all ages and a wide range of leisure services particularly relating to cultural, entertainment and sports events,” Aleksandrowicz says. “These are very important points that attract people to Gdańsk, including those who plan to locate their offices or entire companies here.”

Among the outdoor pursuits with which companies can tempt staff sailing is one of the possibilities Gdańsk offers. “The idea of including this form of activity in the program seemed to be an obvious choice,” says Maciej Olszewski, coordinator of sports at OIivia Business Centre. He says the community around the Olivia Yacht Club has grown steadily and now numbers more than 250 members.

“Another important factor is the approach to investors and their employees who in many cases expect, and receive, support from institutions established for this purpose,” he says. These institutions include the Pomeranian Development Agency (or InvestGDA). 

He points out that Gdańsk and the Pomeranian Voivodeship were recently awarded the European Entrepreneurship Region 2020 (EER) – an honour which the European Union conveys annually to just three regions. “In justifying the EER 2020 award for our region, the jury said it appreciated the set of activities aimed at attracting, developing and retaining talents, supporting start-ups and innovative SMEs, and providing young people with entrepreneurship education opportunities,” Aleksandrowicz explains.

Emerging europe awards

It is not the only accolade the region has attracted recently. In the 2020 Emerging Europe Awards it took fourth place in the Brand category, fourth place in the Business Climate category, seventh place in the Infrastructure and Connections category and third place in the Quality of Life category.

With three cities being so close there are inevitably overlaps but they avoid unhelpful competition in favour of a united front. “The proximity of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia makes us want to tighten cooperation rather than compete,” says Aleksandrowicz. He adds that in any case, a visitor travelling from Gdańsk, through Sopot to Gdynia will not find borders between them. 

Aleksandrowicz also says that apart from the creation of the Gdańsk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area, a tangible example of this bond is the Ergo Arena, a multi-purpose sports and entertainment arena erected in 2010 on the border between Gdańsk and Sopot, which is one of several joint projects the cities have undertaken. 

‘Gdańsk has a well-developed educational infrastructure for all ages and a wide range of leisure services particularly relating to cultural, entertainment and sports events.’

Alan Aleksandrowicz, Deputy Mayor, Gdansk

The bond is also illustrated by the fact that the three cities appear as Tri-City in rankings such as fDi Intelligence and TNW’s Tech Cities of the Future. The Tri-City area came fourth in the ranking, which distinguishes urban centres characterised as having the best conditions for developing and running a business, and supporting innovation. 

Aleksandrowicz says the pandemic has highlighted the importance of investing in safety and quality of life for residents. “These investments not only build loyalty to the place where we live together, thanks to this type of investment, residents will be more willing to plan their development and future right here in Gdańsk,” he says.

Looking to the future Aleksandrowicz says Gdańsk will begin to transform itself into a green and energy-efficient city because the sustainable use of resources is becoming increasingly important when people choose a place to live, work, study or to invest.

Awareness of the natural advantages of the Tri-City area, plus the focus on healthy buildings engendered by the pandemic, were among the reasons that Tonsa, the fund which owns the Olivia Business Centre in Gdansk, has produced its inaugural sustainability report, just published. The firm is one of the first property companies in Poland to publish such a report. 

Tonsa Commercial’s director, Maciej Grabski, says: “We are acutely aware of how important it is to have a solid and resilient ESG framework. Most importantly, it allows us to better manage and maintain our organisation. It also allows external parties an expansive overview of our impact upon the local economy, environment and society.”

City as a brand

“In 10 years’ time I imagine Gdańsk as a city with a recognisable brand and an attractive leisure offer, good social and transport infrastructure, with low unemployment,” Aleksandrowicz says.

“If we satisfy the needs related to the youngest group of residents – nurseries, kindergartens, schools – and our Tri-City universities continue to develop and cooperate with the business environment, adapting their educational offer to changing market expectations, I am convinced that Gdańsk will remain one of the most attractive places to invest and live.”

Awareness of the natural advantages of the Tri-City area is one of the key aspects of the Olivia Business Centre in Gdansk

Nevertheless, quality-of-life characteristics remain a focus. “From the beginning of our institution’s existence, we have stubbornly argued that some key factors cannot be squeezed into Excel tables,” says Marcin Grzegory, deputy director of Invest in Pomerania. “The conversion rate of potential projects into proper investments increases significantly when investors visit our region,” he adds. 

“Today, every business text book tells you that the long-term race for business will be won by the location that will be able to win the race for people. Today’s realities show that the appropriate air quality and exceptional living conditions translate into the potential for relocation of employees to the Tri-City,” Grzegory says.

Although often taken for granted elsewhere, good air quality is not a given in Poland. However, in the report of the General Inspectorate for Environmental Protection published earlier this year, the air quality in Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia is the highest in the country. 

Grzegory says that while smog alerts started ringing in Europe and residents of large European cities have installed air purity tracking applications, in the Tri-City it is difficult to find anyone using these alerts. “The great and growing wave of ‘smog immigrants’ from the south and the centre of the country saw an opportunity to move to the Tri-City at the time of the rapid growth of the modern business services industry, which gave the city a necessary and refreshing economic injection,” Grzegory notes.