Latvia needs to focus its development

  • 2000-06-08
  • Valters Medenis
RIGA - It could be the case of not only the last mohican but the last Latvian. Statistical data by the Latvian Development Agency shows that within 160 years there will not be a solitary Latvian left standing on Latvia's soil. There is concern in the Latvian business community that Latvia needs to make the most of its opportunities while it is still possible.

Viktors Kulbergs, the president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Latvia needs to develop its future generation so Latvia can become economically prosperous. This prosperity will result in economic stability in the family household and possibly lead to a rise in the population of Latvia.

"If an economy is sound, so is the financial situation of families," said Kulbergs.

Latvia is currently in the stage of the "me" generation, where not only the men are securing careers but also women. More and more women are furthering their own business careers, leaving little time for a family to raise more than one child. As a result Latvia has the second lowest birthrate figure in the world.

"The Latvian government needs to proceed with its proposed action plans of developing the education system. Human resources are declining along with natural resources," said Kulbergs. "In the years to come, our population will decline by 450,000. This means essentially we have to make the most of the scholars in our education system. Education must be directed at future industries so our children have a promising career after they complete their education."

Monty Akesson, the president of the Foreign Investment Council, has his own ideas where Latvia has to develop to be economically competitive and ensure Latvia's prosperity in the future.

"More is needed than just the discussed law amendments that the FIC has reviewed with the Latvian government. Foreign investment is needed for Latvia's continual economic growth. The amendments will aid overseas investments, Latvia however has to move away from industrial and textile industries and concentrate on future industries," said Akesson.

Akesson has concerns the cost per labor hour is increasing here. Potential investors in industrial and textiles will soon be searching and basing their capital investments in less developed economies in Eastern Europe.

"Latvia has reached its peak with foreign investment in these industries. Investors will soon not find it economically viable to set up factories here with the wages needed to pay employees. The attraction of cheap labor hours is over," said Akesson.

To speed up our economy, we need to develop other industries such as information technology and our financial resources, said Kulbergs.

"Technology is the future and the government needs to keep up with the times," said Kulbergs.

The Swedish business company Solna is developing six business centers throughout regional Latvia. The aim is to promote small business development in Latvia through capital invested by overseas companies. The business centers could be a key element to promote business investment and growth in Latvia through rural development. The first center is planned for the Vidzeme regional city of Valmiera.

"We want to keep the educated in Valmiera. That is the goal of our city. If we can manage this, Valmiera will have a strong infrastructure to economically develop our city," said Uldis Caune, Valmiera's president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Caune said technical schools in Latvia's outer regions are essential to develop educated and business-minded people in Latvia's regional areas.

"Technical and business educated people can join or start their businesses to enhance not only their own prosperity but the regions'," said Caune. "I believe if there is healthy business activity in any region, there will also be families to enjoy the benefits."

Kaspars Paupe, spokesman for the Ministry of Economy, sees the development of regional areas as another opportunity to increase small business development in Latvia.

"Businesses need not be only concentrated in Riga but also in smaller towns and regions in Latvia," said Paupe.

"Development of our local industry through the attraction of investment is essential for our economy and the development of business," said Kulbergs. "Plans need to be structured in education to make the most of our human resources. The small population of Latvia needs to be ready to do business with Russia when it has recovered economically from its crisis in 1998.

"Students need to be educated in future industries such as business management, strategy and analysis. Our future businessmen will then have the correct business knowledge to offer the rest of Europe. To speed this up we need to develop our information technology, software and design production, and banking sectors. Latvia will then have a very good mixture of business to offer investors," said Kulbergs.

"Brain power is very cheap here compared to the West. Overseas investors with higher wages to offer locals can keep the educated in Latvia," said Akesson. "There is a brain drain here and it needs to be plugged so human resources can be offered to future investors."

For Latvia to survive as a nationality, Kulbergs sees the next two generations as the most important factor. He said, the population can only grow if Latvia is economically strong and these generations need to be prepared.

"Latvia needs to be ready when Russia becomes economically powerful again. Through precise education directed at future industries, Latvia can become an intelligent, economic tiger of the 21st century," said Kulbergs.