The Bulgarian economy is growing at a stunning pace and exports are booming, while its business-friendly environment and well-educated local workforce are a magnet for foreign investments. More and more foreign companies are going there, making significant investments as they open new production units and branches. At the same time, a growing number of Bulgarian companies are opening their wings, conquering foreign markets and significantly increasing their exports.
Euronews journalist Apostolos Staikos explains that a growing number of investors describe Bulgaria with one phrase: "Open for Business".
The Bulgarian capital Sofia is a modern, vibrant European city and an economic metropolis of the Balkans.
In 2017, Bulgaria’s GDP amounted to 50.4 billion Euros, while economic growth reached 3.6%. At the same time investment grew by 3.8% and exports reached 25.8 billion Euros.
The European Commission is predicting economic growth for Bulgaria of just under 4% per cent for 2018, followed by a similar rise in 2019.
Bulgaria's economic achievements have come after much hard work, which has led to an investment-friendly business environment.
MAGNET FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENTS
Some companies saw an opportunity long before Bulgaria became an 'economic success story'. Ubisoft, a French video games enterprise, opened its studio in Sofia in 2006 and started with just 11 employees.
Ivan Balabanov, Ubisoft's managing director, says a combination of factors have made Bulgaria a magnet for foreign investors, including a well-educated workforce, good infrastructure and extremely attractive tax rates.
"We have good education and we have very good infrastructure when it comes to IT development and so on," Mr Balabanov told Euronews. "I’m even putting aside macroeconomic factors like [low] taxation rates and support from the government. It’s the people who matter the most when it comes to the IT industry," he said.
All over the world, Ubisoft, which boasts many acclaimed video game franchises including Assassin's Creed, employs 12,000 creative people from 94 different nationalities.
"Since Ubisoft Sofia opened, we have so far created 195 workplaces and we have plans to grow. In the next 2 to 3 years, we are planning to become at least 300. We are taking advantage of the local talent, be it in the sphere of technology or in the sphere of creativity and content development. We do consider Bulgaria a good destination to continue growing in the future," Mr Balabanov added.
Mikhail Lozanov, Ubisoft's creative director, has worked for the company in Sofia since day one, initially as a lead programmer, back in 2006.
"I heard that Ubisoft opened an office; It was one of the companies that I really respect, so I applied and I joined. That was 12 years ago. I joined as a lead programmer and I grew to creative director," he said.
CLIMBING TO NEW FRONTIERS
But it's not just foreign companies investing in Bulgaria and creating new jobs. Walltopia, a Bulgarian company which exports its products all over the world, has taken advantage of a top quality local workforce and expanded exponentially.
Walltopia was founded in 1998 and is the world's leading climbing wall manufacturer with over 1,800 projects in more than 50 countries on 6 continents.
Walltopia designs and manufactures a wide range of active entertainment attractions, including rope courses and challenging obstacle courses. The company has it’s own production plant in the city of Letnitsa, a two-hour drive from its headquarters in Sofia. Walltopia has assembled millions of square feet of climbing walls and has a team of more than 600 professionals around the globe.
Irina Staneva, Walltopia's investment manager, sums up the secret of her company's success in three words: "Passion, product and people".
"We do everything here, in-house: We don’t outsource," Ms Staneva explains. "We do the design, engineering and architectural work where needed. We produce, we ship and we install everything. So, we control the full process and we control the quality in every step of this process, which is very important when you work with companies all around the world," she said.
"I think Bulgaria is a very good place for investment, especially in the last few years, because everything is booming and it’s developing. There are many businesses that are growing exponentially. That’s good not only for the economy, but also for the people who want to stay and live here. Because they could make really good careers. There is not much bureaucracy here, compared to other countries. We have low taxes, 10% on everything. So, I think it’s a good deal," Ms Staneva added.
One thing is for sure. A growing number of foreign companies are coming to Bulgaria and investing there, while local entrepreneurs are expanding their activities and conquering foreign markets. They all agree that Bulgaria has been transformed into an investment-friendly country that can definitely achieve even higher growth rates.