After dropping my daughter at przedszkola this morning I got stuck behind a bus displaying an advert for yet another Polish city looking to get in on the action. Katowice is in the Silesia (more precisely, Upper Silesia) region of Poland, down south, about 3 hrs drive from Warsaw but only 1 hr west of Krakow. This part of Poland reminds me very much of the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr Area) of Germany that I experienced some years back when living and working in Germany or what was the “Black Country” of England. A massive industro-urban mess of dirty cities all stuck together with a history of coal mining, steel and other unfashionable activities. In all these cases, the population of any one city is nothing amazing but they are so closely connected that when you add them all up you end up with a very significant population in a small area. In the case of Poland, the Upper Silesian coal basin, more or less centred around Katowice, has getting on for 4 million inhabitants, easily twice the size of greater Warsaw.
Gradually, the old industrial activities die out. Certainly the younger residents drift away from the life of their fathers in search of jobs where an iPhone would not be out of place. This is being made possible in Silesia by the influx of new investment into the area. The area is attractive for many reasons, primarily;
- Good supply of well educated young workers (and if my experience of employing people from this region is anything to go by, hard working people too)
- Good language skills, especially if you’re looking for German (again my experience, in this region a foreigner is more likely to be spoken to in German first and English second)
- Good central location within Central Europe as a whole
- Reasonably affluent by Polish standards
- Lots of incentives to invest provided by the local authorities
- Relatively cheap labour costs
This is bringing all kinds of new opportunities to the region. Ones I know about include car manufacturing/assembly, logistics, light industrial and many many BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) offices. We’ve worked on projects for a variety of well known international companies, mainly technology or finance, who have opened offices in this general area of Poland. We must have created office space for a few thousand people all told. Has to be said that, thus far, most of these companies have opted for places like Krakow or Wroclaw, which are on the fringes of this region but far more attractive places to hang out. Even so, for the workforce, it is significantly better than having to relocate to Warsaw.
I have to say I found it somewhat amusing about two years ago to see these companies creating all those jobs in Poland at exactly the same time as hundreds of thousands of Poles were leaving the country to find jobs in the UK or Ireland! I think both were inevitable but the timing was “interesting”, as the Chinese might say. A couple of years on and it seems this swimming against the tide has not had a significant detrimental effect. I would speculate that business plans as regards labour costs have proved to be a tad optimistic but that’s a good thing and I’m sure these companies can easily afford it. Better than investing in the sub-prime mortgage market for damned sure!
Anyway, this is getting boring, even for me. So why not brush off that gifted child you have, stick their name in for the 8th Grzegorz Fitelberg International Competition for Conductors (as advertised on the back end of a bus) and get yourself down to Katowice. You know it makes sense.
Oh. In case anyone thinks I’ve got a problem with coal mining or other such occupations, here’s a picture of my Grandfather, Bill (seated front right), who was 2nd Officer of a mine rescue team in the 1930’s: