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Bulgarian Regions – Part 5

Bulgarian regions cannot develop at the same pace artificially

In four consecutive articles, Radio Bulgaria has focused attention on advantages, as well as investment and economic issues that Bulgarian planning regions face. Moving clockwise from the Northwest, North Central, Northeast and Southeastern planning regions, the analysis of economist Adrian Nikolov* from the Institute for Market Economics (IME) has reached the leading economic zone in this country – South Central Region.

Three of the administrative districts in the region are bordered by Greece and the district of Haskovo is bordered by Turkey. The region includes the second largest city in Bulgaria – Plovdiv, a hub where key roads for the country and the whole of Europe pass, including the Trakia highway (connecting the Black Sea to Sofia, part of the Pan-European Transport Corridor 8) and Maritsa Highway (from Turkey to Central Europe, part of the E80 international road).

"The city of biggest economic importance in the south is the district center of Plovdiv - the area outside Sofia that has attracted the largest foreign investments in industry. New higher value-added industries have started working there and investors began speaking of lack of employees and of ways of attracting workers from nearby cities like Pazardzhik and even Haskovo,”the economist says.

Adrian Nikolov also pointed out an interesting example related to education in this part of Bulgaria

"Our regional studies have found that one of the leaders when it comes to school education is the Rhodope town of Smolyan. By attracting good teachers and investing in school education, the local authorities have achieved very good student retention and very good national matriculation exam results. In Smolyan there is bigger share of students pursuing higher education at universities.”

The Southwestern region, near Greece and North Macedonia, seems to remain in the shadow of Sofia,especially after the Struma Highway shortened travel time to the district of Blagoevgrad significantly.

"Blagoevgrad has been negatively affected in recent years mainly by two trends in the manufacturing industry. The collapse of the tobacco industry has led to the disappearance of several thousand jobs. On the other hand, the textile industry plays an important role in the area but has very low added value and fails to provide a high standard of living. If a person was more mobile and had production knowledge, it would be much easier for them to move to Plovdiv or Stara Zagora and work in one of the more modern companies there instead of staying in the textile industry in Blagoevgrad.”

Sofia is a different economic story.

"The city of Sofia is a separate economy," Adrian Nikolov says, pointing out the service sector: "In recent years, there has been a rise in outsourcing and information and communication technologies. There is also strong industrial development in the region of Sofia. We view Sofia and the regions around it as separate economic units, but they are a very connected economic entity. Some of the strongest industrial enterprises and mining companies are situated in the region of Sofia, including the largest company in Bulgaria, which gives the highest salaries in several small municipalities.”

How could we unite these stories from Bulgarian regions so that a happy ending can be achieved?

“Bulgarian regions do not need to move in the same direction and develop at the same speed. We have already mentioned about the importance of administrative and tax reforms– both are necessary to move forward in order for the weaker areas to achieve their potential.”

* The interview with economist Adrian Nikolov was made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but economic and statistical data on the development of regions in Bulgaria remain a lasting trend, just like the need for changes in Bulgarian regional policy. The crisis caused by the coronavirus could become a catalyst for the reforms needed in the future.

English: Alexander Markov

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