Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: in this exclusive new interview with the leader of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gives readers an inside view of the economic development of one of Turkey’s most dynamic emerging cities. Set at an important transport crossroads in Anatolia, and home to leading universities, Eskişehir is an up-and-coming city that will become more known to both foreign tourists and businessmen alike in the coming years.
We would also like to give a special thanks to Mr. Arda Genç of the Chamber of Commerce, for his assistance with this interview.
Chris Deliso: Mr Güler, thank you for speaking with us today. How did you first become involved with developing the economic potential of your city? What sort of related economics coordination or business work has this involved?
Metin Güler: Since I have been on duty at the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce (ECC), we have been working to shape the future of the economy of Eskişehir and trying to turn Eskişehir’s potential into new opportunities. This is because we believe the values of Eskişehir don’t only come from it being a crossroad of lands and civilizations, but we believe also in its potential for becoming the crossroad of economies.
Since I was nominated as President of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce on 18 December 2013, we have been coming together with the organizations and institutions from Eskişehir. We have been setting meetings about export, new investments, innovation, R&D, entrepreneurship and problems of merchants and industries. Also, we have been meeting together with the ambassadors and international commerce delegations to discover new commerce strategies.
CD: What is the main function of the Economic Chamber in the city? For example, facilitating trade relations on the national and international level, attending trade fairs, providing contact for legal and legislative support, etc. What are the key priorities of the chamber?
MG: Besides its own authorizations, Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce is responsible for bringing in new opportunities and developing the export capacity of its members. On the other hand, we have to help these members in solving their problems. Our members also define us as having broad vision, as being an up-to-date organization, capable of providing opportunities for its members on a global scale, and as a leading organization in the country. To achieve our goals, we are working with our international trade, ECC academy, R&D and strategic research, as well as a project office, visa office, EU information center, plus law and tax advisory departments.
CD: Most foreigners have not heard of Eskisehir. What do you consider the main benefits of the city for foreign investors? What are the main most interesting sectors for foreign investment there?
MG: First of all I want to point that Eskişehir is now a more famous city than it was before abroad. Eskişehir is becoming an attraction for not only Turkey but for the world. This is because Eskişehir is located on the crossroads of railway and highway systems, and thus connects many cities to one another. In addition, we have one of Turkey’s most extensive industrial zones. We have rich sources of boron, thorium, coal, and so on. We are receiving more tourists with our two universities and recently accelerated tourism in our city.
Moreover, our companies in the field of air defense, machinery industry, food and construction components are both cooperating and competing with the biggest companies on the global scale. Foreign investors are aware of the high-technology industry, educated human resources, high-value mines and logistical advantages of Eskişehir.
CD: The Turkish government has plans to increase foreign investment in Turkey. Is there some benefits (taxation rules, business incorporation, local municipal support, etc) that Eskisehir has an advantage on over the national average?
MG: In this sense, Eskişehir is well-developed and has attracted investments by itself, so the government hasn’t needed to provide much of a boost. In fact, Eskişehir was placed at the lower end of the government’s ‘boost’ list, because so many investors are already investing Eskişehir. Every passing day a new company is built here.
CD: A lot of attention was given to the new high speed railway to Ankara and Bursa. What is the situation with the planned railway to Istanbul? Is it possible to quantify the increased benefits this rail link has brought to Eskisehir, in terms of improving logistics/speed of business, arrival of more businessmen and tourists, etc?
MG: The new high-speed train project has been actively working for about a month now. During this 24-day period, approximately 35,000 people entered Eskişehir using the high-speed train. We think that in the near future, high-speed trains will carry at least 4 million passengers who will come, stay and contribute to tourism. After all, several new hotels have opened, which supports this view.
CD: Eskisehir has been long known as a liberal, student-friendly city, whereas much of Turkey and especially Anatolia is more conservative. Do you think your city’s special character is something that can be used to create an ‘urban brand’? Do you plan to cater to certain types of tourists because of its unique offerings?
MG: First of all, we need to indicate that Eskişehir, from its past to its future has been a province that has received immigrants. When it comes to cultural heritage, Eskişehir has traces of the ancient Phrygian culture, the Byzantine era, the Selçuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire. So, it resembles a mosaic of cultures. Our town has received immigrants from a lot of countries and areas, from the Balkans, Crimea and Caucasus. In this sense our immigrant-citizens have contributed to Eskişehir’s identity and personality.
On the other hand, we mustn’t forget one person who lived in Eskişehir- Yunus Emre, well-known around the world for his generosity and philosophy. He said, “come, let’s meet. Let’s make everything easier.” Famously known for his humor, and an important person of value to the country, Nasrettin Hoca also lived in Eskişehir. Eskişehir has 50-year-old universities that have contributed to the social life and city’s fabric Of course, this image of the city as modern and integrated in the wider world contributes to Eskişehir’s image and brand value. When you put them all together, the colorful and polyphonic characteristic of Eskişehir reveals itself.
CD: Statistically, does the Chamber have information on the number of foreign investors in Eskisehir, their sector, their annual turnover and contribution to local employment and taxes? If so, is the trend towards more investment value or less in the projected period 2014-2020? What are the main drivers of growth?
MG: Certainly, we are following foreign investments carefully. Without a doubt, Eskişehir’s most important feature in this aspect is its close proximity to the Marmara industrial area and perfect industrial infrastructure. In addition, our landing costs are quite reasonable. Therefore, we can easily remark that, Eskişehir is going to be more popular day by day.
CD: Turkey has been in the news a lot because of the security problems in Syria and Iraq. Is it possible that any of these tensions can be felt in your city, or do you believe that it will be insulated from any possible spillover of violence from those areas?
MG: Of course political and social instabilities in the same geography interfere with commerce and industry. Definitely Eskişehir’s economy is being influenced by these complications. As long as we are not on the borders, this situation doesn’t present any danger. However, our members who are carrying on business with these territories can experience problems.
CD: The Russian one-year ban on food imports from European and other countries has been seen as a great export opportunity for Turkey. Are there any specific agricultural or other products from your region that could be exported in large quantities to Russia, and thus benefit from this situation?
MG: Eskişehir already has an important position in the foods market. We have companies active on the global market. So yes, the Russian food export boycott of EU and other countries will be an advantage for Eskişehir.
CD: Finally, what are the sectors of economy that you see most vital for your city in the coming decades? Are the local universities and business growth lobbies aware of this, and training the students and young employees towards the relevant industries?
MG: Eskişehir will be strong in the aviation defense industry, machinery manufacturing, food, construction components and the textile industry, as it already is now. Also it’s unavoidable to add new universities to Eskişehir’s current two universities. Tourism will be one of the biggest gains for our city.
Of course our business audience is aware of all of this, and they are structuring their future activities with consideration of this. Foreign investors are also following Eskişehir’s activities for the future. As the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, we are continuing promoting Eskişehir’s potential to the world.