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Inside Klaipeda FEZ: Vakaru Ekspresas’ impressions
Dalia Bikauskaite, Vakaru ekspresas
The first impression on arriving at the territory of Klaipeda FEZ, which is mostly located outside the city but also takes up some municipal land, is somewhat puzzling. Buildings, chimneys and manufacturing is everywhere around, yet not a single person is in sight – even though more than 5400 people come to work here every day.
And we arrived at lunchtime as we wanted to meet some of them.
Eimantas Kiudulas, CEO at Klaipeda FEZ, has been commuting to the port city from Vilnius for 18 years because, he explains, his wife wouldn’t agree to move. Maybe that’s why he says that one day he’d love to see a high-speed train connecting the two cities.
Mr Kiudulas also wants to come to work by bicycle, as he believes that in 2019 electric bicycles will become far more popular in the city.
It was hard to arrange this meeting with Eimantas Kiudulas and ask him to be our guide at Klaipeda FEZ – he is often on a business trip. He says that autumn is the best time for “client hunting”. There are few occasions, he explains, where potential FEZ members come to Klaipeda by themselves, so they have to be approached personally.
Klaipeda FEZ workers’ impressions
We approached two workers during their lunchbreak. Giedre and Sigita both work at Klaipedos verslo parkas, a company managing three buildings with 30 other businesses that employ almost 1000 people in total. Giedre has been here for 14 years, Sigita 11 years.
Giedre: “I live just outside Klaipeda but it’s very convenient to come to work, along the Palanga highway. Of course, it’s more complicated if you have to take kids to school. But I try to avoid the city centre, and actually there’s no need to go there – once you do, there are always traffic jams. One thing we lack here is probably greenery, but there are some initiatives right now to plant trees. I worked in Melnrage before and there was always this terrible smell from the port. Here, you can sometimes smell tobacco.”
Sigita: “We feel good here. There’s a restaurant, a conference hall, a recreational area. I worked in the city centre before. There are benefits and there are drawbacks, of course – there you can do errands during the lunchbreak, which is not possible here. We just go out for lunch and come back to the office.”
Dovile, a marketing manager at Garant Group, a new company that moved to Klaipeda FEZ three months ago: “It was a bit unusual to start working here: nothing around, only industrial buildings, people busy working, no passers-by. I wouldn’t say I miss anything in particular – you go to work because it’s your job, after all, and the location is not that important to me. We get along well in our office and don’t really meet people from other companies.”
Four streets with pavements
Mr Kiudulas recalls 2002, when the area was just empty land. There was a single 1.6 km road, going nowhere, which has now become a street of its own, Pramones Street. There are now four streets in total, all with pavements.
Since 2002, FEZ has seen almost €700 million in investments, and the revenues of all of the FEZ members combined exceed €1 billion. The members come from 16 countries, mostly Scandinavian enterprises. There have been only three cases where investors have discontinued their operations due to changes in the business environment.
FEZ is comprised of two territories – 300 hectares in Klaipeda city and another 70 hectares in Klaipeda region. FEZ both leases and sells the land.
Kiudulas says that the zone’s long-term goal is to become an integral part of the city rather than just an industrial park.
“FEZ is not a closed territory, even though outsiders can’t enter the industrial buildings freely.” He jokes that FEZ does not intend to declare autonomy, no matter how well things are going inside.
Electric buses and bicycles
The average salary at the ten biggest FEZ investors is €1540 brutto, which is twice the Klaipeda city average.
Currently there are 32 investors at FEZ that are developing projects, and 70 more companies are renting premises. This year, Klaipeda FEZ for the first time built a new building without any prospective investors in sight – and most of its premises are already rented. Another building is to be constructed next year. After that, the total area that Klaipeda FEZ can offer to rent will comprise roughly 85,000sqm.
One of the new projects to start in February 2019 is the manufacture of electric buses.
“Klaipeda should be proud of itself, because the world’s lightest electric buses are to be manufactured here. The location was determined by a combination of the proximity of the university and FEZ,” Kiudulas explains.
He adds that Klaipeda and Palanga municipalities are planning to buy some of the first vehicles produced here. In total, 40 buses will be produced next year, and many more in the future.
Another success story is Glassbel, which is also the only building in the city where the heating is provided by solar panels integrated in the outside walls.
2018 was a good year development-wise: eight new projects are being developed, three of which are new clients. In total, FEZ attracted €72 million in investments this year – which also means roughly 220 new jobs.
Klaipeda FEZ is home to large-scale technology companies. However, Mr Kiudulas claims that the pollution levels are rather minimal. According to him, Pramones Street could hold the title of cleanest street in Klaipeda, as it is cleaned by specific machinery every other day. This is despite the higher traffic flow there.
“FEZ is no park, of course – it’s an industrial area, after all. But it is also one of the cleanest areas in the city. The names of the companies that come up when discussing pollution in the city are not chemicals producers, they are, for example, plastics manufacturers and they employ closed-end technologies. They are not responsible for the biggest share of the pollution, yet the names of the materials they process sound like something that is harmful for the environment. But they do less harm than, say, the furniture industry,” Kiudulas says.
“The only problematic case was a smell caused by Mestilla, a biofuel producer. But in this case the company reacted immediately, investing more than €300,000 in air filtering technology and the problem was solved.”
According to him, not a single chimney at FEZ is emitting smoke – only steam. Kiudulas believes that a far greater share of pollution is caused by households outside the city that are using wood for heating.
“We aim to create more green spaces in the area. I’ve even seen a couple of roe deer here – I’m pretty sure that once the trees have grown enough the place will become their home.”
One farmer has his field in the FEZ territory, where he grows rye. When it’s not occupied by industry the land looks much better with crops growing.
Bicycle lanes and further plans
Next year, Klaipeda FEZ is to be connected to the city with a bicycle lane, and since 2016 public transport has also been stopping here. According to Kiudulas, the number of bus routes is to increase in 2019. “There is even a tiny shower for cyclists – although currently it’s used more after football games at FEZ,” he says.
It is also expected that construction will start soon on the new Statybininku Prospect, a new road that will connect FEZ to the rest of the city.
The biggest companies here have their own canteens, but there is one shared canteen too, where the guest count is approximately 200 people per day.
FEZ has its own fire station, football and basketball fields, and a tennis court. Kiudulas says that all these facilities are full every day after 6pm, and he also mentions plans to build indoor sporting facilities.
Another plan is to build a research centre, which Mr Kiudulas expects will become a Klaipeda FEZ landmark that will differ greatly from all the industrial buildings.