Mon, Jan 26, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Computer giant seeks Polish refuge in economic crisis

AFP , LODZ, POLAND

There is no joy among workers at Dell’s factory in Lodz over the global computer giant’s decision to shift production from Ireland to Poland but as the economic crisis bites they are relieved their jobs are safe.

“We understand it’s a blow to people in Ireland — we Poles have also suffered high unemployment — but it’s difficult not to be a little bit selfish in this [economic] situation,” says Bartosz, a 23-year-old Dell employee and IT student waiting for a bus home outside the vast plant after a shift.

As he gazes down from a balcony overlooking the factory’s state-of-the-art assembly lines, Rafal Branowski, communications manager for Dell Poland, says it is unclear how many of the 1,900 Dell jobs lost in Limerick will come to Poland.

The size of five soccer pitches, the giant factory’s three lines employ 1,800 people assembling built-to-order laptops using Asian-made components for clients in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“The decision to transfer production from our Irish plant in Limerick here to Lodz and third parties is part of a plan to save US$3 billion,” Branowski said.

Pressed, he admits at least one new production line for desk tops and servers creating upwards of 300 jobs is likely to begin operation within a year.

With salaries on the factory floor averaging 1,500 zlotys to 2,000 zlotys (US$445-US$590) per month, labor costs in Poland are a fraction of those in Ireland.

Aside from a competitive and skilled labor market, Branowski says its proximity to major European clients was a key factor in Dell’s decision to first set up shop in Lodz three years ago.

The factory lies inside one of Poland’s 14 Special Economic Zones, where investors enjoy exemptions from both property taxes and Poland’s 19 percent corporate income tax while often getting public aid to boot.

Lodz city hall created all the necessary infrastructure — including fences, roads and public bus service — on the property slated for Dell.

This “the customer is always right” and “full service” approach has attracted 980 foreign investors to Lodz so far. Both production plants and business processing offshore facilities are mushrooming in the city known until recently as a 19th century industrial boom town gone-to-seed after being hit hard by waves of industrial collapse.

The investment boom has seen unemployment in Lodz dive from 20 percent four years ago to 6.5 percent last month.

It is now aiming to attract enough investors to create 40,000 new jobs by 2015.

With 80 to 90 new foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the pipeline for Poland this year, Pawel Wojciechowski, director of the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency expects 10 billion euros (US$13 billion) in all.

While representing a 20 percent drop from the projected 11 billion euros to 12 billion euros in FDI Poland attracted last year, Wojciechowski insists this year’s tally will create at least 5,000 new jobs.

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