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Investment minister promotes Macedonia

Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 12:41 a.m.

While many people probably can't point to it on a map, the tiny Eastern European Republic of Macedonia could provide big advantages to small businesses, according to speakers at an event held Friday afternoon in West Homestead.

About 30 entrepreneurs and local officials including Homestead Mayor Betty Esper and former state legislator and Allegheny County commissioner Mike Dawida were in attendance at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center along W. Eighth Avenue for a presentation by Jerry Naumoff, Macedonia's recently appointed minister of foreign investment.

“For a young country that had a very rough start 20 years ago, the business opportunity in Macedonia is pretty amazing,” Naumoff said.

Once part of the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia declared independence in 1991 and joined the U.N. in 1993. Bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, it's just under 10,000 square miles with a population of about 2 million.

Naumoff, a former business owner in Chicago, said he understands the difficulties facing American businesses.

“I know exactly what type of pressures you're facing,” he said. “I experienced in my business drastic increases in the cost of doing business due to escalating taxes and never-ending regulations. These last several years, it's become much more difficult for businesses to make a profit.”

That's where he believes Macedonia can help. Still rebuilding after the fall of Yugoslavia, the country is littered with upwards of 400 empty factories that the country would be happy to fill with American businesses. Boasting the lowest taxes, wages and operating costs in Europe, along with an eager and well-educated workforce, he said Macedonia recently was ranked No. 5 on CNN's list of the 10 best places to start a business.

“During the first six months of this year, we've already had more foreign investors than all of last year,” said Naumoff, noting that many take advantage of the country's free trade economic zones where there are no personal taxes. “We also provide up to almost $700,000 toward the construction of a building, we have 0 percent retained earnings and free trade agreements with Europe, Turkey and the Ukraine — that's about 650 million people.”

Naumoff stressed that European expansion isn't only for multi-million dollar corporations.

“There are lots of opportunities for small to mid-sized companies to expand in Europe,” he said. “They can use Macedonia as a launching pad.”

Developer Walt Viola, organizer of Friday's event, said anyone with a business could take advantage of overseas expansion.

“Everything you do is exportable,” he said. “It's a matter of you wanting to do it.”

He said, although many Americans have their roots in Europe, the younger generations might view it as a world away.

“We need to turn to our kids and say, ‘Look, our great-grandparents came over (from Europe),'” Viola said. “That doesn't mean we also can't look back to do something on the other side of the ocean.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, Esper said that although she doesn't know if many local businesses would be willing to make such a big leap, Macedonia does seem like an attractive option.

“If I were a businessperson and had that type of money to set up and get a quality workforce like that, it all sounds very good,” Esper said.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.



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