Slovenia: can Maribor's Science Park provide an economic boost

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The city of Maribor is Slovenia's second largest city and the capital of its region known as Styria in the north-east of the country. It's where the country's first Science Park is to be established amid hopes it will stimulate an economic upturn in the region.

Before Slovenia’s independence from the communist former Yugoslavia in 1991 Maribor was a city with a highly developed economy. But in the transition to a market-economy a wave of big companies went bankrupt causing a major blow to the region. In the years since there have been many attempts to overcome the economic crisis – but with few results.

Recently, the University of Maribor invited economists and researchers to collaborate with it on creating the first science park in the country. One of those invited to Maribor is Dr. John Allen of the United Kingdom who has helped develop science parks in 31 countries. He’ll also be involved in establishing a partnership between Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

“The interesting thing about science parks is that they are all different or they should be. You can not transfer what is in Manchester or Cambridge or Massachusets into Maribor.’’

According to Dr. Allen, a science park, such as the one planned for Maribor, would bring a lot to the district since it is mostly about transferring knowledge between universities and the economy. He says it could also stop the so-called ‘’Brain Drain’’

“If you have a university and all the students get good degrees and then go off to the capital city, that doesn’t do the region much good. But if you have a mechanism which helps to create or take part in business ventures in their own region, then that helps them to stay here.’’

Technology parks already exist in Slovenian cities, such as Ljubljana and Celje, and also in neighbouring Austria - but these have poor connections to universities. So why have a ‘science park’? Professor Matjaž Jurič, is the director of the Maribor Science Park. He says it will increase survival rates for innovative start-up companies:

‘’We have a full university incubator, so all the rooms are full, and there are several successful companies who work with large international companies. They have products and services which can be sold all over the world. Maribor needs a science park because it doesn’t have such an environment. The fact is that this is something that has been missing in Maribor over the last few years, and those companies will soon outgrow the incubator.’’

The Science Park partnership between Slovenia and the United Kingdom is assisted by the European Union and there are plans to establish joint research & development activities.

‘"The science park in Maribor is open to all kinds of companies. However, through the work that we have done, we have identified that there are some stronger areas. And these are definitely ICT, telecommunications, electrical engineering, civil construction, mechanical engineering, but also others.’’

And is there an ultimate goal of a science park? Dr. Allen:

‘’If you are the municipality then what you are looking for is economic regeneration, maintaining or enhancing your competitiveness, and yes a science park can do that. If you are a company, you are looking for an environment, which will help your company to grow quicker and become more profitable. If you are a university, you are looking for ways to exploit your technologies and the creativity of the staff in the region.’’

The Maribor science park will be built near the University, and will consist of a ten buildings complex. Construction of the first one, which is already leased, is set for the beginning of next year.