Local companies hear opportunities in Macedonia

AUSTINTOWN – Duty-free access to the European market, a 10-year tax holiday and an available, educated, low-cost work force have triggered American companies like Johnson Controls, KEMET Electronics, Wabtec, Microsoft and Amphenol to locate factories in the tiny European Republic of Macedonia.

Now the country is looking for Mahoning Valley companies to follow suit.

During a whirlwind tour this week of Ohio and Pennsylvania cities, an entourage of Macedonians, including the country’s deputy prime minister, made an overnight stop in Austintown in their appeal to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and local companies that might have an interest in the European market.

“Typically, if you you look around the world, the few countries that have natural resources have become the leading standard for wealth. But in the end, it comes down to people,” said Macedonia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Peshevski, in his address Wednesday to more than a dozen local business leaders at a breakfast meeting in Austintown.

He was speaking about the investment his country has made in improving the training and education of students and available work force.

“We are trying to create a good environment for businesses,” Peshevski said. “We doubled the budget for education. The idea is that if you invest for a very long period in your people, eventually the capacity to deliver added value to the companies will increase.”

Top executives at Hubbard-based biotechnology company NanoLogix took part in Wednesday’s discussions and came away with a keen interest. The company that just delivered to Macedonia neighbor Bulgaria, and also has signed a distribution agreement with a Singapore company for a number of Asian countries, likewise would consider operations in Macedonia, said NanoLogix CEO Bret T. Barnhizer.

“We are attuned to this,” Barnhizer said, noting that his company will be in contact with development officials from Macedonia and could soon plan a trip to the country.

NanoLogix already has business relationships in nine countries on four continents and is working to increase business ties with companies in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa.

Such an investment would be a change of pace for the country which has found its most recent economic success in attracting the automotive industry.

George R. Perry, an automotive industry consultant from Detroit, who was traveling with the group, said the country’s more than 20 percent unemployment rate is driving the push to find investors that will bring jobs and drive the economy. The reciprocal gain for U.S. companies is the return on investment to domestic shores from profit generated at overseas plants.

Perry has decades of experience heading up automotive firms, including stints with Ford Motor Company, CEO of Siemens Automotive Group and of Yazaki North America.