International outsourcing, new business parks and a candidature for the Winter Olympics – Poland’s second biggest city is emerging as one of the fastest growing hot spots in the world. Today it is the city’s potential for business that puts Krakow in the international spotlight, and there are clear signs that local authorities and businesses have the vision and ambition to support further development.
Krakow is internationally renowned for its heritage, culture and history. It was one of the first cities to be listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been the main tourist destination in Poland for decades. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Krakow has also become one of the country’s top destinations for Business Service Centres. In 2012 the city was listed among the most attractive global cities in a joined report from the Economist and Citi Bank. As the main tourist destination in Poland, Krakow has seen millions of visitors exploring the historic streets around the Rynek square in the old town and around the Wawel Castle. In 2012 almost three million people visited Krakow from abroad. Together with Warsaw, Krakow has been the one city in Poland where you hear foreign languages mixed with Polish on the streets. In recent years, however, the city has also started to attract a new kind of visitor: business professionals. More than 3000 foreign- ers are currently working in the city just in the outsourcing sector. These new residents have moved here to work for international companies like HSBC Bank, IBM, Motorolla, Shell, UPS, Capgemini, Google, State Street and Hitachi. Krakow has the second largest concentration of foreign companies and A-class office buildings in Poland, after Warsaw.
Only a handful of European cities can claim to contain little to often the eyes. Paris is one and Prague is another. It is perhaps Krakow that is the most pleasantly surprising to visitors. One of Europe’s best kept treasures. Dating back to early medieval times, Krakow is Poland’s best known travel destination, filled with heritage architecture, museums, thousands of bars and restaurants and cultural events. It is the historic seat of Polish Monarchs, Poland’s former capital, my home town, and the cradle of Polish culture, history and arts. In 2014 Krakow was visited by over 9 million people. It’s heart – the Rynek square has been voted to be worlds most beautiful public square.
With a number of strategic developments underway, the city’s business infrastructure is catching up with that of the capital and investment in modern office real estate has shown great potential. There are now a number of modern business parks around the city (Olsza, Zabłocie, Zabierzów, Płaszów and Bronowice) serving international companies relocating to Krakow. The explosion of mobile and web-based technologies has meant that Western technology com- panies need to look further to fill their growing demand for skilled IT specialists, and Krakow has a great deal to offer. There are over 8000 graduates from IT related studies each year. Further advantages are relatively low costs of living and operating businesses plus excellent flight connections to almost every country in Europe. Investors and entrepreneurs from traditional tech hubs in California’s Silicon Valley have shown interest in Krakow, and many local software development agencies now serve a number of clients from the US and Western Europe. There is also significant growth in video game design and development, web design, mo- bile applications and bioinformatics. In addition there is a high concentration of digital media (Poland’s largest web news portals, Onet and Interia, are both based in Krakow) and an emerging start-up community.
Making Waves, a Norwegian design and technology company, is an interesting case in point. They opened a small outsourcing office in Krakow in 2005; today, they are a large development centre with access to a team of experienced, qualified developers, IT specialists and web content producers serving clients in many European languages. One of their flagship projects, Noway’s official travel portal www.visitnorway.com, is delivered in nine languages from Krakow by a multinational team of content special- ists working closely with Innovation Norway offices in various countries. Last year FIFA chose to collaborate with Making Waves from their Zurich based head office. The success story of Making Waves shows that Krakow has become an attractive destination not just for outsourcing, but for setting up offices with international operations.
Krakow, the second largest city in Poland next to Warsaw, is where I grew up and where my home is – a bohemian, unique, upcoming city, yet peaceful and intimate – enlisted on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In many aspects it is the new emerging Silicon Valley of Europe – a hub for IT and outsourcing services and a great creative community.
Further exciting developments
With the influx of foreigners working in the city’s BPO and IY sectors there is a growing demand for modern apartments in the city centre. Last year several interesting new development projects were initiated in the core city, integrated within the historic old town. One of the interesting ones is Lubicz Brewery, revitalising the historic brewery area with loft style apartments and office complex just a walking distance from the main market square – Rynek. Nearby there is a large modern gated development by Hines Group – Novum. Underneath the Wawel Castle hill the new Angel complex, inebriating modern architecture with historic monastery will include some of the most expensive apartments in Poland. By Vistula river, facing old banks of Kazimierz quarter there is new Nadwislanska11project next to the upcoming Kantor Arts museum. A little further down the river is the award winning complex of Vistula Terraces (Wislane Tarasy) made of 6 modern apartment buildings overlooking the river boulevards, old Kazimierz and post industrial quarter of Zabłocie. Zabłocie, in fact, became in recent years a new hot spot on Krakow real estate map with lofts, offices and modern apartment replacing the old factories and warehouses, including an impressive Młyn Lofts development.
Apart from the growth in the real estate and the technology based businesses, several other exciting developments are currently in process. The city is building a congress centre to meet the demand of the international conference industry. With a central location just across the river from the Wawel castle, the centre has the potential of hosting both business and academic events from around the world. The modern, sleek architecture of the building stands in stark contrast to the medieval old town. The grand opening is scheduled for autumn 2014 and the first international events are already booked. On the other side of the city centre there is a cluster of cranes constructing a modern sports arena for large sporting events and exhibitions. Krakow has already been named the 2014 European City of Sports by the European Commission and will co-host World Volleyball Tournament in 2014.
Perhaps Krakow’s most exciting prospect is that the city council and the Malopolska region, together with a Slovakian partner, have applied to host the Winter Olympics 2022. Krakow will compete with Barcelona, Nice and Oslo to win the first Olympic event for Poland. The Malopolska region is modernising the train station and developing a brand new international terminal at Krakow’s airport with a capacity of serving up to eight million passengers annually. Now there are plans to construct the city’s first underground line that will connect the west and east parts of the city, the old town and the modern business park around Olsza and the Aquapark leisure centre. By the end of 2014, the city also plans to launch a metropolitan rail network that will connect the Krakow city centre with the suburbs and surrounding towns. The Olympic village, high speed rail to the Tatra mountains and new hotels will follow. The investment strategy will further strengthen the Krakow brand internationally. We keep our fingers crossed. Krakow of 2022 deserves to be a real cosmopolitan international city recognised not only for its history and heritage but also for business and human potential.
Article originally published in the Think Krakow e-magazine (September 2013).