President Lennart Meri and Minister of Economic Affairs Mihkel Pärnoja participated in the traditional Top Foreign Investor 1999 Awards ceremony on April 13 to acknowledge companies that contributed most to the development of the Estonia's economy.
"We decided to give the prize to a company which is strong in all criteria: the amount of investments, export development, the creation of jobs and product innovation," said Agu Remmelg, director general at the Estonian Investment Agency. "Eesti Telekom for example, fell out of top place because they neither exported nor created jobs. Kunda Nordic was good in all criteria, but not the strongest in any."
Kunda's main competitors for the award with Eesti Telekom were Elcoteq Tallinn, Hansabank, Tartu Brewery and the Tolaram Group.
"Kunda Nordic was established seven years ago and during this time has been able to turn a dusty and dirty Kunda into a profitable and fast-developing plant. They have also built a modern harbor in Kunda, where wood is being exported besides cement. Their investments are very important in developing regions outside the Tallinn area," Remmelg said.
"Our success lies in the enthusiasm of our personnel," said Jan Owren, managing director at Kunda Nordic Tsement "They have a great experience in cement manufacturing, and they are extremely enthusiastic in developing the whole society of Kunda and the port of Kunda."
All of the owners of the company come from abroad, mostly from Sweden and Germany. Estonia privatized its stake in the company last year.
"We have invested about 600 million kroons ($37 million) since 1993 and are planning to pause in investing and start to consolidate," said Owren.
The company has been working with a profit since 1998. Kunda Nordic Tsement employs 377 people. Its sales in 1999 reached 374 million kroons - about three-fourths from exports. The biggest export markets are Germany, Poland and Finland.
Owren said the main advantages for having a plant in Estonia are the availablity of raw materials, the location near the coast and the favorable costs. Kunda Nordic Tsement uses domestic oil shale as fuel in the production.
Four other companies were handed separate awards in investment, export development, creation of new jobs and innovation.
Eesti Telekom, which made invesments to the amount of 720 million kroons last year, won the award for biggest investment.
The sporting goods company HTM Sport, which got most of its 308 million kroon turnover from exports, won a prize for export development. The company produces 14 percent of the world's ski boots.
A producer of paper products, Lindegaard Eesti, won the prize for creating the most jobs, adding 42 percent of its 271 jobs last year.
The prize for production innovation went to electronics company JOT Eestiwhich finds its biggest export market in Finland.
Remmelg said1999 was a successful year for Estonia in terms of foreign direct investments. Of 4.5 billion kroons coming into the country, one fourth went to industry, one fourth to transport and communications and one fifth into the banking sector. The biggest sources were, as usual, Finland and Sweden, which combined, invested about 70 percent of the total.
"If we do not take into account the investments made in the banking sector in 1998, then 1999 was a record year," said Remmelg.