Wrocław, the ‘city of bridges’, is emerging as an investment hub in Poland across both manufacturing and services. (Photo by Piotr Hawalej/AFP via Getty Images)

The Polish city of Wrocław is steeped in history. Dotted with landmarks such as the Market Square, the Old Town Hall, Cathedral Island and Centennial Hall, ‘the city of bridges’ has a fascinating heritage, having been at the centre of many historic conflicts including the German Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, the First World War – in which the city became the capital of the Prussian Province of Lower Silesia – and the Second World War.

Throughout history, the city has had three names and three cultures. It has been known as Breslau (Germany) and Prezzla (Prussia/Czech) before finally evolving into the Polish city we know today. It was following the Second World War that Breslau became Wrocław following the Potsdam Agreement.

This turbulent history has left a city filled with beautiful architecture and a multicultural tapestry of residents, including a number of bronze dwarf statues commemorating the anti-Soviet resistance movement that helped bring down the Communist regime in Poland in the 1980s.

Aleksandra Kłonowska-Drozd, head of the investment support team at the Wrocław Business Support Centre, says: “Wrocław welcomes everybody, it welcomes new cultures and new ideas, and this is mainly due to its history. There has been this exchange of citizens. People from all over Europe have come to this city and this notion of being very multicultural has continued.”

Blending education and business in Wrocław

Alongside being a cultural melting pot, Wrocław is also the third-largest academic centre in Poland (behind Warsaw and Krakow). The city’s student population comes in at more than 130,000 with the University of Wrocław producing an impressive nine Nobel Prize laureates. Wrocław’s universities offer an expansive list of subject-based institutions including medicine, economics, music, logistics, and science and technology.

Kłonowska-Drozd says: “Education is really important in Wrocław. There are 28 higher educational institutions here, both public and private. We have actually had the first foreign university open in Poland, with Coventry University.”

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The Coventry University campus in Wrocław opened in September 2019. Kłonowska-Drozd says: “[Coventry University] has a very interesting curriculum that focuses on cooperating with businesses. The curriculum it has created is developed in accordance with what the local market needs.”

Education is really important in Wrocław. There are 28 higher educational institutions here, both public and private. Aleksandra Kłonowska-Drozd, Wrocław Business Support Centre

This style of collaboration between businesses, universities and government fits in nicely with Wrocław’s approach to education. This is highlighted in the Wrocław Academic Hub’s Mozart Programme, which was adopted by the City Council of Wrocław in 2012. The programme was designed to enrich Wrocław’s job market and to bolster development in advanced technologies and sciences.

The programme offers subsidies to these partnerships in order to assist with projects in a variety of fields, including biotechnology, medicine, construction, IT and robotics.

Retention of the talent created is also high on the list of Wrocław’s priorities. Kłonowska-Drozd highlights a Ukraine native, Taras Lukaniuk, as a good example of the city’s efforts here. Lukaniuk arrived in Wrocław in 2008 and today he is the director of the Nokia technology centre in the city.

This type of retention is a priority for Wrocław, as over the past two decades the population of the city has remained stable (with a high number of students making up that population), while many cities in Poland have suffered from a brain drain as talented graduates move to other countries in the EU.

A split market

The city of Wrocław provides a balance between a youthful population embracing modern technologies, and a rich history that is omnipresent throughout the city. This stark balance can also be seen in Wrocław’s economic make-up.

Kłonowska-Drozd says: “This balance is visible in the economic aspects of the city's growth, because we have a 50/50 divide between the manufacturing production sector and the services sector. We are a very diversified economy; we do not focus on only one kind of technology or one aspect of one industry. Instead we promote both to create diversity.”

We are a very diversified economy; we do not focus on only one kind of technology or one aspect of one industry. Instead we promote both to create diversity. Aleksandra Kłonowska-Drozd

The industrial sector in Wrocław consists of a robust manufacturing hub with subsectors including automotives, white goods, mechanical engineering, and chemical and pharmaceutical production. Big brands in these industries with a presence in the city include BASF, Toyota, LG, Electrolux, 3M Fresenius, MacoPharma and Bombardier.

The services sector compromises business services and an extensive IT sector with brands such as Atos, Dolby, IBM, BNY Mellon, Credit Suisse, Google and HP all present in Wrocław.

Of Wrocław's appeal to big businesses, Kłonowska-Drozd says: “Many companies that are here have seen the potential of development and have created R&D centres. From simple production or service-based businesses, they are evolving, and the city is moving with them into advanced technologies and services.”

Wrocław's investment story

Wrocław’s strategy to spread its focus across services and industrial sectors, while maintaining strong links between education and businesses, is proving successful when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).

A combination of access to talent and appealing operational costs saw Wrocław rank in the top 20 of fDi intelligence’s 'Global Cities of the Future 2021'. Furthermore, in the small and mid-cities category Wrocław topped the ranking, beating the likes of Zurich and Vilnius to the top spot.

To add to Poland's FDI appeal, the country appears to be bouncing back from the Covid-19 crisis faster than many of its European counterparts. “Last year was a rollercoaster, but the services sector adapted quickly to the pandemic situation," says Kłonowska-Drozd. "That is because we have lots of big foreign conglomerates such as Credit Suisse and HP where their internal culture saw them react quickly to remote working.

“The production sector, particularly our medical subsector, had to implement certain health and safety rules for the employees to be able to work. Some had to close down for periods of time, which created fear in those workforces.”

Kłonowska-Drozd believes that through effective communication with businesses and an agile approach, Wrocław is set to continue its promising recovery from Covid – and as the world reopens, Kłonowska-Drozd encourages investors to visit Wrocław.

“Each city in Poland has a unique atmosphere and their own kind of historical background," she says. "I would really encourage all interested companies to simply come and visit, to see for themselves that it is a really interesting place and offers lots of opportunities.”

Wrocław's diversified economy, split between services and manufacturing, and its policy of linking education and businesses should help it maintain its strong FDI momentum as the world gets back to a 'new normal'. The city with the rich, varied history will hope its has a more predictable, but similarly notable, future.

This is the second article in Investment Monitor's 'Future of Polish Cities' series, with the first looking at Łódź. In the coming weeks we will profile Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Poznań and Warsaw.