As the founder of European Free Zone, which aspects of free zones do you find might make them more appealing than conventional industry?
KŞ: Our perspective was that free zones are a necessity, and we made the first investments in Thrace; there was a need for free zones in Thrace. I mentioned this to the proper authorities. We found a suitable land, and showed it to them. Then they gave us the license to open the free zone. They know that we have international experience, and have been successful in export and import. We do lots of business with Europe. I opened my first company in Germany, and I have knowledge about the management and investment models in Europe. We trained our workforce, we worked on marketing, but most of all we pleased the clients, and solved their issues. We took those with issues to the correct ministries, to the deputies. We had meetings with them. Our free zone has excelled. We are the first investors in our free zone. We built factories in it. Now 70% is comprised of foreign investment. They were satisfied with our services and brought their partners. Chinese firms referred us to the Chinese firms, Indians to Indians, Germans to Germans. We marketed 95% of our free trade zone. The remaining 5% can be marketed to however the current situation has caused some problems. We need more stability. And some of the areas we need to market are rather small in size. There is high demand and we might open a second free trade zone because the companies have high sales and profits. There are currently more than 200 companies in European Free Zone, most of which are technology companies.
What is the role of European Free Zone in ensuring the growth of technology exports in Thrace?
KŞ: Thrace was home to mostly textiles industry in the past. The other industries were not very powerful here. European Free Zone is home to firms operating in several different industries such as US agricultural machinery firms, a technology firm, FlammAerotec, that builds parts for Airbus, one of the world leaders in polyester films Polyplex, and local firms such as Korozo… These firms all develop technology. Recently, we have aimed to bring more technology-producing companies. We support them and provide them with incentives. We work with the government in this, and have succeeded immensely. We became a region that produces technology, and the companies have interactions with the region – they order goods, produce, and train the workforce. We managed to grow the presence of technology industries in Thrace. It has become a stronghold of technology. We call European Free Trade Zone our Silicon Valley. The project sets a good example. The export volume of Turkey’s free zones has remained fairly stable over the past half decade.
What steps can Avrupa Free Zone take to increase its annual export volume going forward?
ZA: Unfortunately, for the past five years, the trade volume in free zones in Turkey has not much surpassed $20 billion. Our aim is to increase it to $25 billion first and $30 to $40 billion dollars in the next five years. What are we doing to increase trade volume? First of all, we want to bring in new investors. By investors I mean production-related companies manufacturing goods for export. Our marketing department at European Free Zone actively works towards this aim. As you can see, our marketing team is not here
because they are in Japan to give seminars to 50 Japanese investors. We gave seminars in South Korea and India last year and we drew investors to our free zone. We visit investors personally to bring greenfield investors here to increase our volume of export. Besides that, we have projects to commercialise newly acquired fields. We find investors for these lands, which also increases our total volume of trade.
Do any barriers to entry exist for foreign companies looking to invest in Avrupa Free Zone?
ZA: Capital outflows, establishment of new companies, registering these new companies with the Chamber of Commerce – all of this is part of the procedure. We give consultancy on these issues, and we recommend companies when needed. We give support during the license period and help with governmental papers that need to be followed with the ministry in Ankara to make things faster. Since we are a private free zone we do deed transfer, which means the company buys a property here. Since it is not a rental they can sell it later on. Because of this, a private free zone is more reliable for foreign investors.
Can you define the kind of business community that investors can expect to find in Avrupa Free Zone, and the organisation and services provided to them?
ZA: When the investors first come to the free zone they meet us in order to purchase the land. We furnish information on construction rules and restrictions. If necessary, we perform the construction after making them a competitive proposal. We provide electricity and natural gas, and municipal services. So it is very convenient for the investor as they start off with properly prepared infrastructure. They just have to concentrate on the construction and design. We can say they have little to think of, but of course they have to get the necessary governmental permission documents from the local authorities, such as environmental impact assessment report.
In terms of its geographic location, what are the strategic advantages of Avrupa Free Zone in terms of accessing important international markets? Can you provide some information or examples of prominent trade routes?
ZA: Our geographical location is very good. One can clearly see that by looking at our occupancy rate, which is 95% now. We are very close to Europe. When a free zone company receives an order it can produce the product in three days and transfer the product to Spain, Italy or England in another three days. So we are very close to the European market. Our second advantage is that companies that stop their operations due to the increasing expenses in Europe, companies that cannot compete with a low-cost workforce, can move here if they want to stay in the European market. Another category is Far Eastern companies, from India, Japan, and South Korea, which plan to enter the European market.
What are the soft incentives, such as access to skilled local labour, language training facilities, and a positive social and family environment, that Avrupa Free Zone provides, or could provide, to new investors?
ZA: There are three big universities in the Thrace region: Namık Kemal University, Trakya University, and Kırklareli University. With these three universities we have made collaboration protocols. We get support for project drawing and project consultancy and trainings. We also have a collaboration agreement with a public employment agency. They come to our free zone couple of times per year to give training. We are in collaboration with the closest district’s municipality to help free zone employees with preschool and day care centers. We also help companies in specific areas by providing training. If our investors want to host presidents or ministers in their opening ceremonies we help them. Çorlu – Çerkezköy is very close to İstanbul and it has all the social amenities.