On the same day as I started to write this blog, a Slovak newspaper published an article on its front page with the title: “Double salaries? Reality in Košice”. The article highlights the success of Slovakia’s new Silicon Valley-inspired cluster, known as Košice IT Valley. So far it is succeeding in creating thousands of new jobs with notably above-average salaries. But perhaps most importantly, this project shows what it’s possible to achieve in a region with enthusiasm and skills.
Košice and its surroundings belong to the regions with the biggest economic and social issues in the Slovak Republic. Its location in the eastern part of the country means it is surrounded by unfinished infrastructure and failed regional development concepts. This region has struggled with high rates of unemployment, low economic activity and emigration, causing a vicious circle of economic and social issues that have persisted for decades.
Jozef Ondáš (General Director of the Košice IT Valley project) and his colleagues concurred in 2007 that it was pointless to expect miracles from the central government in Bratislava.The perpetually promised highway, which anyway would have brought new factories rather than sophisticated production, seemed to be placed on a permanent hold. Instead, the Košice IT Valley team decided to focus on a field with greater added value – the IT sector. All the necessary ingredients for success were already in the region: a quality academic environment; talented young people (previously forced to move to the west for better conditions); and companies that wanted to expand their entrepreneurship in this promising field.
Košice IT Valley is a cluster based on the knowledge triangle – universities (schools), local government and IT companies. The project is not only an inspiration on the regional level, but it should serve as an example for changes and innovation in the Slovak educational system. Košice IT Valley cooperates not only with universities, but also with the high schools creating subject curriculum, new study programmes, implement dual education, practical lessons linked with the case studies, summer schools and technological courses. Companies educate their future workers for skills tailored to their needs. It is a holistic approach with benefits to all in the system.
In the six years since its inception, Košice IT Valley can boast excellent results. While the creation of 1000 new jobs was their initial goal, they’ve now surpassed that six fold. As noted, the salaries on offer tend to be above-average not only in the region, but at the national scale. Košice IT Valley now has 30 members, but the tremendous success they’ve achieved so far has inspired even more ambitious plans. By 2020 they want to expand to 100 members and create 4000 additional jobs.
This focus on innovation is mirrored in a new project starting on the 1st of November, 2013. The main aim of the LEGEND project (Leverage knowledge for sustainable innovation and growth) is a transfer of intellectual capital methodology. This will help small and medium enterprises to understand how to measure their employees’ intellectual capital, and build their ventures in a more strategic fashion. The project is unique in Slovakia, but is tied to Košice IT Valley, who represent the target group of SMEs and its partners. The owner of the innovation is the German partner – Wissenskapital, whose know-how will be adjusted to the Slovak context together with the Fachhochschule Joanneum Graz and Centire s.r.o. The two-year project was selected as one out of only five within the LLP Leonardo Da Vinci – Call 2013 in Slovakia. They’ve got high ambitions, but as the success of Košice IT Valley has shown, anything is possible.
Disclaimer: This blog was conducted within the project “Learn from the Best” which has been funded with support from the European Commission within the LLP – Mobility (PLM). This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.